April 27, 2014
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. - A year ago, Connor Cook was merely a contender in Michigan State's wide-open four-quarterback race that wasn't settled until the sixth game of the 2013 season.
After a highly successful red-shirt sophomore year that included Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl Most Valuable Player honors behind him, Cook is MSU's unquestioned No. 1 signal-caller heading into the 2014 season.
Leading the Spartans to an unprecedented 13-1 record and Rose Bowl Championship has done wonders for his stress level.
"I think the main difference is just my level of fun," Cook said after completing 11-of-21 passes for 159 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions while rallying the White to a 20-13 victory over the Green in the annual spring game at Spartan Stadium. "I think before I was just so focused on trying to be the best quarterback out there and so focused on trying to win each day, win each practice, win each scrimmage or spring game.
"I was just so focused on myself and not really focusing on other things that I should've been focusing on."
Not that Cook took the Green-White game lightly.
And, by hitting tight end Josiah Price with a game-winning 2-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds left, the Spartans continued the theme established with come-from-behind victories against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game and Stanford in Pasadena.
"I was taking it extremely serious," Cook said. "I was treating it just like a normal game. The clock was running, so we had to have a little bit more of a sense of urgency, but I wanted to score. I wanted to win that game and I think that everyone else did too."
The biggest question facing Cook and the Spartans is whether they can capitalize on the momentum that propelled them to the top of the league and No. 3 national ranking last season.
Fans can expect "the burning desire to get better," he said. "I feel like everyone on our whole football team is just striving for greatness every day. You know for all the things we've accomplished, guys are more hungry and that starts with the older guys and the younger guys are following their lead."
Cook said he expects the players who didn't play an active role last year because they redshirted to help fuel the team with pent-up competitive drive.
"They obviously go from playing in high school for four years and they were the guy, and then they come here and they redshirt," Cook said. "(We're counting on) their burning desire to get out there and to play. I feel like we saw that a lot, especially with (running back) Gerald Holmes in the spring and (defensive end) Demetrius Cooper. There are some other guys that stand out and I think that's the biggest thing you're going to see out of the younger guys for sure."
Former MSU and current Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was part of the Big Ten Network broadcast team covering the game, sees some of those same qualities in Cook.
"I'll be the first one to say that I was the one who sat here last year and said that I thought (departed senior) Andrew Maxwell was going to be the guy," Cousins said. "I was completely wrong. Connor played his way into that starting role, and credit to the coaching staff for making the tough decision and the right decision to go with Connor.
"What makes him so special? I think we're going to find that out the next couple of years, but we started to see it at the end of last year. When you throw for over 300 yards in the two biggest games of the year as a sophomore in your first year starting - that says it all. There's probably going to be a lot more coming these junior and senior years.
"What makes him special? I think it's his work ethic, his drive. I see on summer break, spring break, he's going to train, he's going to work and he's always hungry for more knowledge. Anytime you have that mentality, you're going to go places."
Minus the stress.