Seniors, Not Buttermaker, Will Lead '18 Spartans

Seniors, Not Buttermaker, Will Lead '18 Spartans

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Seniors, Not Buttermaker, Will Lead '18 Spartans

There’s a stark difference between Michigan State’s 2018 roster when compared to one year ago.  Last year, there were a few seniors who were limping into the season following the 2016 gack. A year later, the roster has more seniors than any head coach would wish for. 

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One year ago, the vibe around the Michigan State Spartans was sort of like the vibe around the guy who was on the brink of failing out of school after he spent the entire previous academic year sleeping, watching The Price Is Right, enjoying the social offerings Michigan State and East Lansing has to offer, and, instead of completing exams and papers and projects for his classes, he was interested in drawing pictures of old rock album covers on the pages of the Blue Book exam packets and submitted those drawings for his exams.

A year later, that dude has lost the thirty pounds he gained from last year’s gluttonous commitment to late night pizza and Natural Light, he’s brimming with academic confidence after achieving Dean’s List status, he’s gotten himself a whole new wardrobe that features Johnny O’s shirts and maybe even some Vineyard Vines trousers and shorts, and he attends more than 27% of the classes he has on his schedule.

Ah, but it’s not like he’s totally ditched the positive elements of that edgy vibe that contributed to the basic sense that he would eventually get his game together, earn a degree, and convince someone to let him earn a wage – he still doesn’t shave more than twice a week.

But he does have his hair trimmed and he combs it so he doesn’t look like a hobo any more.

I once knew a guy like that.

A year ago, Michigan State had suffered through the worst season in a generation both on and off the field.

The 3-9 disaster of 2016 had as much to do with a fraying of all intangible elements that Mark Dantonio focused so heavily on during his first ten years as the Spartans’ head coach.

Chemistry and leadership had become as important as having guys like Jeff Smoker and Charles Rogers on the roster.

And, Dantonio proved, year in and year out, that it was more important to have that chemistry and leadership than it was to have a guys like Jeff Smoker and Charles Rogers on the team.

Some programs have the luxury of being able to simply plug in 5-star guys and the machine cranks out wins (without winning actual championships of any kind, however).

Michigan State is a program that has to roll up its sleeves, get its fingernails dirty, and out-work the Blue Bloods who think all that’s necessary is making really neat music videos about having it better than everyone else and not needing to focus on the importance of successfully accepting the long snap when in punt formation.

The leadership on the Spartans’ 2016 team was comparable to the leadership that Buttermaker provided for the ball club sponsored by Chico’s Bail Bonds.

And, as the 2017 Spartans readied themselves for what they hoped would be a bounce back season, the fact that so many players were dismissed from the team or left because they didn’t like it that the head coach was telling everyone to get ready to have to get back to having dirty fingernails presented the program with a problem.

On top of that, there were only nine scholarship seniors in Fall camp a year ago.

Thankfully, two of those seniors were captains Brian Allen and Chris Frey.

Has anyone officially suggested erecting statues of these badasses for someone near the Skandaleris Center?

It’s not an exact science – but – we hear it from coaches all the time:

The teams that win championships are the teams that have great player-led leadership.

And the best leadership, generally speaking, comes from the seniors on the team.

A year after the 2017 Spartans started a steep climb that wound up being one of the more remarkable seasons in memory for the Spartans, the Michigan State roster is filled with seniors that have had the experience of winning the Big Ten Championship, reaching the College Football Playoff, AND being a part of the worst Spartan season since 1982.

That’s some valuable experience right there.

And there are twice as many scholarship players on the Michigan State roster who are seniors compared to a year ago.

These are guys that have “leadership” traits in their DNA.

Felton Davis, Khari Willis, Andrew Dowell, LJ Scott, David Beedle, Matt Sokol, Colin Lucas, Matt Morrissey, Grayson Miller, Gerald Owens, Jake Hartbarger, Dillon Alexander, Byron Bullough, Chase Gianacakos, Ben Line, Brandon Sowards…..

These are the names of the veterans on this football team that are obligated to lead.

None of them see it as an “obligation,” either.

In looking at each of these names, nobody is going to make an argument that there is a fly in the ointment here.

These guys are a part of the fabric of the program that’s been built and they’re straight out of the Dantonio philosophy.

There really isn’t a guy in this bunch who was being slobbered over by Ohio State or Alabama.

Michigan State wanted them.

They wanted to be Spartans.

LJ Scott could have made some nice cash by taking his chances at the NFL Draft after three pretty good seasons.

Sure, LJ will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t mind checking himself in the mirror to make sure he’s looking good for everyone.

But his actions say it all – he’s back in East Lansing for his senior season and he’s as committed as ever.

These guys aren’t asking Dantonio, “Hey – why didn’t you get the Big Ten Network producers over here again to do that nifty series on us like we did before we all went out and soiled the field for twelve weeks in 2016?”

Worth noting, too, that Brian Lewerke, Joe Bachie, Justice Alexander, Josh Butler, Cole Chewins, David Dowell, Tyler Higby, Justin Layne, Noah Listermann, Mike Panasiuk, Matt Seybert, Darrell Stewart, Tyriq Thompson, Kenny Willekes, and Raequan Williams are all juniors.

That list of juniors points out two important things:

  1. The eighteen seniors have that batch of juniors helping them with the leadership every day.
  2. A year from now, when this year’s seniors are in the NFL or off earning a wage as a regular civilian, these juniors will be picking up the senior leadership right where the 2018 seniors left off.

Mark Dantonio and the Spartans have come full circle after the debacle of 2016.

The incredible run from 2013-2015 that featured an incredible overall record of 36-5, two Big Ten Championships, a Rose Bowl victory, a Cotton Bowl victory, and an appearance in the College Football Playoff had as much to do with leadership as anything else.

If we’re looking strictly at talent on the roster, the 2018 Spartans might be more loaded than any other roster in a generation.

But when we look at the seniors that are here to provide the essential leadership every day, every practice, every team meeting, every week, and every game, it’s hard to point to another Spartan roster that appeared to have stronger, more experienced, and more authentic leadership than the 2018 team.

 

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