July 29, 2014
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
CHICAGO - When Connor Cook made his first start at quarterback for Michigan State against South Florida in the second game of last season, he wasn't lacking for confidence.
He only completed 6 of 11 passes for 32 yards, but the Spartans won. Two games later, his 16-for-32, 135-yard, one-touchdown performance at Notre Dame might have been good enough, if not for a plethora of defensive penalties that doomed MSU to its only loss of the season.
As Cook became even surer of himself week after week, the Spartans finished the season with a 10-game win streak and Big Ten and Rose Bowl Championships. So what will Cook, coming off two consecutive MVP and 300-plus-yard performances, have going for him heading into the Aug. 29 season opener against Jacksonville State?
"I've always been a confident guy, but I had to earn everything," he said Tuesday at Big Ten Football Media Days. "I had to earn the spot, earn teammates' respect, earn the coaches' respect.
"So having the season we had last year just boosted my confidence even more. Being able to play against the teams that we played, to beat the opponents that we beat in the environments we played in, and the pressure situations, that will boost anyone's confidence, including me. The main difference from here compared to last year is just my confidence level."
It was up to the stratosphere while completing 22 of 36 passes for 332 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the Rose Bowl victory against Stanford and 24 of 40 for 304 yards one touchdown and three interceptions against Ohio State in the conference title game.
Raising his confidence to a championship level was an ongoing process, especially after games in which he wasn't satisfied with his performance.
"I just never gave up and kept pushing," Cook said. "It's always looking for something to get better at whether its watching film, staying after practice and working out with your wide receivers, or whatever, to always be looking for a competitive advantage.
"That's how I got through."
Connor Cook 2.0 will come preloaded with a wealth of experience that didn't exist a year ago and unwavering belief in what he's able to do.
"What's going to be different is my free rein to check and make audibles," he said. "I just feel like I'm going to be more confident in everything I do, more confident in every throw I have and check that I make. Obviously, I'll get nervous for games, but hopefully not nearly as nervous as I did this past year.
"The game did kind of slow down for me, but I just got more comfortable making big-time plays, anticipating guys breaking open and not being hesitant. I know that early on, I was sometimes like, should I throw it, should I not? Now, I'm going to throw with conviction, don't hold anything back and just grip it and rip it."
Cook's mobility is considered an asset, but he said he's going to be smarter about scrambling, especially when he may have running back Jeremy Langford, who averaged nearly 5 yards per carry and 5.6 on 28 receptions, as a safety-valve option.
"I've always been a pure progression guy, one, two to three, but I definitely need to check it down more," Cook said. "I feel like this past season I'd go one, two, three and then try to run. I would even look for my back and he's standing right there in front of me wide open.
"I feel like that can be a good area of improvement, especially when you have a great running back like Jeremy Langford and get the ball to him in space and make some guys miss."
Fifth-year senior free safety Kurtis Drummond said Cook's confidence is palpable.
"Just the way he goes out there," Drummond said. "He knows that on the play that's called he's going to complete a pass. By the way he conducts himself, it's like he just knows. They just feed off each other on offense, and it's not only affected the offense; it's affected the whole team."
GoG Notes & Quotes: A young reporter who covers Indiana University went to eminently quotable Spartan defensive end Shilique Calhoun for information on what landmarks a first-time visitor to the MSU campus must see.
"It's beautiful," said Calhoun, listing the "Sparty" statue, the botanical gardens, Beaumont Tower and Spartan Stadium, but not the famed Dairy Store.
"I'm lactose intolerant," he said. "Unfortunately, I can't go to the Dairy Store. That's out of my league. I've passed by it and said, I wish I can go in there and get some ice cream right now because it looks amazing. You see everyone out there smiling and I'm like, I hope she drops her ice cream because she's just loving it...I'm joking. Our Dairy Store is pretty amazing. I've never actually tasted anything from there but I've heard great reviews."
Dantonio observed from the next table as Calhoun held court throughout the two-hour session.
"Shilique's a natural; he should appear here year-round," Dantonio said. However, Calhoun doesn't see himself as an entertainer after his football career comes to an end.
"I want to be a police officer in my local hometown," said Calhoun, who hails from Middleton, New Jersey. "That's why I'm pursuing my degree because there is life after football. No entertainment for me. I get stage fright."
As the NCAA continues to address the concussion issue, MSU has been at the forefront of detecting head trauma and treatment.
"I think for the last three or four years, the aspect of concussions has been something that's been talked about," Dantonio said. "We're one of the few places in the country that has a doctor on the sideline specifically for that. Obviously, we're going to err on the side of safety."