July 29, 2014
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
CHICAGO - Some people are said to be products of their environment. Michigan State free safety Kurtis Drummond is a reflection of his observations.
Many of his coverage skills were honed by studying former teammates such as Marcus Hyde, Trenton Robinson and recent graduate and Jim Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Darqueze Dennard. The formerly subdued Drummond has dramatically upgraded his leadership skills by watching Max Bullough, the firebrand middle linebacker who sometimes single-handedly willed the MSU defense into making big plays.
But his work ethic and character were molded from the example set by his mother, Evette, while growing up in Masury, Ohio, an economically distressed blue-collar community of 2,600 located in the Steel Valley northeast of Youngstown, bordered by the Pennsylvania state line.
Drummond's mom has operated a garbage truck for Allied Waste Services for at least 15 years. Her willingness to do such a dirty job has left a durable impression on him.
"It made me just realize that a lot of times in life you're going to have to do things that you truly don't want to do, but in saying that, you have to do it and you have to get it done," the fifth-year senior said Tuesday at Big Ten Football Media Days. "It's kind of mind-blowing when I think about how hard she works and still be able to do the things she does after work.
"It made me realize that I can do whatever. It's not too hard because my mom's out there not complaining about anything. She's out there working through whatever weather, and for me to complain about anything, I feel, would be disrespectful. I'm definitely a momma's boy."
Drummond is the youngest of three children. His sister, Sheila, has three of her own, and his brother, Julian Hayes, has also been an important mentor in his life. Although Kurtis envisioned himself playing point guard for a college basketball team, Julian kept him focused on realistic expectations.
But he has his mother's influence to thank for the drive and determination he used to earn All-Big Ten honors last season and consideration for the 2014 Bednarik, Thorpe and Nagurski awards.
"Seeing her do that type of work for all these years is motivating in itself," Drummond said. "My mom's a great grandmother and she's always spending time with them, making sure they're happy. Even after a long day's work, she makes sure everybody has what they need.
"It's just the little things she does, whether it's helping somebody else, her selflessness or the way she just stays on me to be a better person and good man. She's strong-minded and strong-hearted."
With Dennard and strong safety Isaiah Lewis moved on to the NFL, where they are Cincinnati Bengals teammates, the mantle of leadership in MSU's secondary has been passed to Drummond, who defensive backfield coach Harlon Barnett calls one of his smartest players.
Whether it will be getting standout junior cornerback Trae Waynes and experienced junior strong safety RJ Williamson lined up correctly, or correcting underclassmen like cornerbacks Darian Hicks and Arjen Colquhoun and safeties Demetrious Cox and Jalyn Powell, it will be with a variety of voices.
"I'm just a humble guy, but hungry, understand what I want and a guy that's going to work hard and push others. I want to be able to take care of my mom, be able to give back to my community and just do things for kids one day. I think it's only right to give back to her and take care of her."
Drummond, a psychology major, has been biding his time while gathering information from numerous sources since sitting out his first season in 2010 after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum.
"I was a little down about that, but as I was redshirting, Darqueze Dennard was always a good friend, just talking to me and keeping my head up," Drummond said. "Then my next year, I was still a little nervous and really only came in on third downs for the most part.
"The next year I started to compete for the job, rotating with Jairus (Jones) and RJ. But once I got a taste of starting, I kind of got addicted. I guess that's when I started to get more and more confidence in myself, when my playing time started to increase and the coaches started to see that maybe I was better than I initially thought."
Looking back, Drummond can see how far he's come to emerge from Dennard's shadow and be considered one of the nation's premier defensive backs. Dennard, a former two-star recruit from Dry Branch, Georgia, didn't receive any scholarship offers from major in-state schools and Drummond, a highly-rated recruit listed as "athlete" (wide receiver or defensive back), didn't hear from Ohio State.
"My story from the beginning at Michigan State to now has grown tremendously," Drummond said. "I think that's how it is for a lot of freshmen, especially when you're competitive. That's just in you. You think you should be playing, but I realized quickly, just looking at Marcus Hyde and Trenton Robinson, that there's another level of football than what I was playing.
"Once I met Queze and saw what kind of person he was, that's when I started to realize that recruiting stars don't mean much at this level. The way Darqueze worked in practice and prepared for football was something different. I wasn't used to something like that, just his attitude and competitive nature. It was definitely good for me to see at a young age."
Drummond is the first to admit he's not a natural-born leader.
"I was probably more-so being led when I got here, but over the years have just grown and become the person I am from seeing how other people conduct themselves," he said. "You've got to be able to model yourself after somebody. I just like to be a copycat in a way, just see the good that people do."
No one helped Drummond come out of his shell more than Bullough and Dennard.
"Max Bullough (and Dennard) would let you know whatever needed to be said," Drummond said. "Some guys just really grab you and show that you need to be told what you need to be told."
Head coach Mark Dantonio identified key markers for success within Drummond early on.
"Kurtis is a guy that even as a redshirt freshman was extremely dependable and knew what to do," Dantonio said. "He's a quick study and quick learner, but he has a gift for appreciation of the small details. Some people don't quite understand that you have to take these particular steps or look at this particular thing to be successful and you have to do it on a consistent basis.
"I think that's why he played early and so successfully. He can go outside and play corner if he wanted to. At that front-side safety, in this day and age offensively, there is a lot of stress put on that guy. He's got to have great cover ability, great attention to detail, and be a communicator as well."
Drummond said he isn't shy, and won't hesitate to share his knowledge of the defense.
"I would say I have a pretty good understanding of what's going on," Drummond said. "It came from watching how Marcus Hyde and Trenton Robinson played and how they approached the game. The seriousness they took into every day, the extra time they put in, and really just paying attention and listening to a guy like Coach Barnett. He tells you everything you need to know. He's helped me develop into the man I am today."
And that would be?
"I'm just a humble guy, but hungry, understand what I want and a guy that's going to work hard and push others," he said. "I want to be able to take care of my mom, be able to give back to my community and just do things for kids one day. I think it's only right to give back to her and take care of her."