EAST LANSING (AP) -- Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio is sure the off-the-field headlines that embarrassed his program last season didn't hurt him on the recruiting trail.
The Spartans signed 21 players from five states on Wednesday, including four high school All-Americans and a junior-college standout.
"I want this to be about the players we signed," Dantonio said after a video presentation and discussion of each signee. "Everything was explained. We have an open-book policy."
For at least one day, discussion of 14 suspensions for the Alamo Bowl and two other players following an on-campus fight took a back seat to the modest successes of a program that has been to three straight bowls.
The most-heralded player in Dantonio's fourth incoming class is 6-foot-7 linebacker William Gholston from Detroit Southeastern High, the highest-rated signee for any Big Ten school.
The Spartans signed 10 offensive players, 10 defensive players and a punter. The class includes 11 players from Michigan, six from Ohio, two from Georgia and one each from Florida and Indiana.
"It's very important to try to stack classes on top of each other," Dantonio said. "We had an excellent class last year. We've seen six or seven players hit the field each year. This is probably no exception to that."
After a step back in the standings last season, Michigan State (6-7, 4-4 Big Ten) needed some immediate help on defense.
Dantonio thinks he has found that in a group he described as explosive.
Among the top defensive players are linebacker Max Bullough from Traverse City St. Francis; safety Isaiah Lewis from Indianapolis, cornerback Mylan Hicks from Detroit and tackle Anthony Rashad White from Battle Creek, by way of Fort Scott (Kan.) CC.
The new players on offense include quarterback Joe Boisture from Saline; running back Nick Hill from Chelsea, and offensive lineman Travis Jackson from New Albany, Ohio.
"We've addressed our needs with a pretty balanced class," Dantonio said. "A lot of these guys have been on our campus so many times it's unbelievable. Max Bullough has probably been here 15 times."
Bullough is the son of former Michigan State linebacker Shane Bullough and the grandson of ex-Spartan star and longtime college and pro coach Henry Bullough. Boisture is the grandson of former Duffy Daugherty assistant and NFL aide Dan Boisture.
"Their commitments showed a lot of trust for us as people," Dantonio said. "None of them decommitted. And none of them went on other visits. That speaks to their character in an age where you see people flip-flop a lot."
Overall, Michigan State's recruiting class has been ranked as high as fourth in the conference and 29th in the country, the program's highest standing since 2004.
"Mark Dantonio has another solid group coming in," national analyst Tom Lemming said. "I think they actually did the best job of recruiting in Michigan and landed a lot of good ballplayers. The only reason the Spartans wouldn't be higher is their out-of-state success."
With Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State having the highest-rated classes in the Big Ten, Lemming and Midwest recruiting expert Bill Kurelic both mentioned the importance of scouting players who fit a system and the coaches' ability to develop players.
It's also important to keep players on campus and in uniform, a problem the Spartans faced after a fight with members of a campus fraternity on Nov. 22, the day after the regular season ended.
That problem was followed by a 41-31 loss to Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl, when 14 players were held out for disciplinary reasons.
Eleven former or current players face misdemeanor assault or conspiracy charges.
After the team returned, Dantonio discovered that two more players, including starting defensive tackle Oren Wilson, were involved in the incident.