MISSOULA — DeAri Todd fulfilled one form of his potential this spring.
The incoming Montana football transfer became the first person in his family to graduate from college when he received his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State. Getting that degree was a driving force for the native of Lorain, Ohio, even as his playing time was less than he expected.
“What really kept me motivated was just proving to the people back home in my city of Lorain that although things didn’t go the way I wanted, I still kept going,” he said.
Todd will now have a chance to fulfill his untapped potential on the field at Montana. The opportunity comes after he spent four seasons in the Big Ten Conference, didn’t play a single snap on the defensive line but still became a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree.
Todd will have up to two seasons of eligibility at Montana to show that he can hang at the Division I level. He’ll be a sixth-year senior when he finishes, if he uses both seasons, the second of which was granted by the NCAA to fall sports athletes because of the pandemic.
“I want to prove to myself that I can play at this level,” he said. “I can achieve this by continuing to work hard and be the best that I can be on and off the field, and the rest will handle itself.”
The potential was there for Todd coming out of high school. He was a three-star defensive line recruit who committed to Boston College of the ACC before flipping to Michigan State.
Todd was brought to MSU by longtime coach Mark Dantonio but never got to see any in-game action. Mel Tucker took over as coach ahead of the 2020 season, but playing time never materialized for Todd under the new staff.
“Although I feel like I could’ve played at MSU, it was just best for me to move on and continue my career elsewhere,” he said. “So, now I’m going to Montana with a chip on my shoulder and something to prove. I know I didn’t get to MSU by accident, and the coaches here at Montana believe in me as well, so I’m just ready to get to work.”
Todd is coming to Montana expecting to play defensive end, which he considers his natural position. It’s the spot he thought he’d play at Michigan State when he came in at 253 pounds.
He was moved to the interior of the line but couldn’t bulk up past 285 pounds, so he moved back to the outside. The changes kept Todd from feeling comfortable at a single position, but he’s hoping all the practice time will finally translate into playing time at UM, which needs to replace Braydon Deming, who grad transferred to Illinois State following the spring season.
“Although it’s been a while since I’ve played, I feel like I can contribute right away and compete for a starting job,” he said. “It has to be earned though. I feel more ready than ever, and coming from MSU, I know how to practice and prepare for practice and my opponents.”
Todd is anticipating taking the field at 6-foot-2, 265 pounds this fall. He feels he’s a more explosive player than when he got to college and credits the MSU strength staff.
Another key area of growth for Todd at MSU came through the nutrition program. He learned what to eat and when to eat it, eliminating fast food from his diet and adding vegetables.
“I would describe myself as a tough, relentless player,” he said. “I feel like I can bring leadership and versatility to this defense.”
Todd is coming to UM to study physical therapy after he got his degree in kinesiology at MSU. Having that degree made him immediately eligible wherever he transferred, although the NCAA was wrapping up approval of a one-time transfer waiver as he was closing in on graduation.
Todd chose Montana over an offer from Idaho State, another Big Sky Conference school. He felt he would’ve gotten more offers if he waited longer, but he found what he wanted at Montana while being primarily recruited by defensive line coach Barry Sacks.
“Montana was the place for me because it was an opportunity for me to play,” he said. “I like their facilities and what they had to offer. Also, the fans are passionate, and that’s something I’m used to coming from Michigan State.”
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.