Aug. 2, 2012
As Michigan State gears up for preseason camp, which begins on Saturday, Aug. 4, msuspartans.com is taking a position-by-position look at the 2012 Spartans. Today, the special teams unit is featured.
Special teams are a point of pride for Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, and the results in his tenure have proved the emphasis the Spartans place on the third phase of the game.
Since Dantonio's arrival to East Lansing in 2007, a Spartan kicker or punter has earned All-Big Ten recognition six times, and MSU has also produced Big Ten leaders in kickoff returns and punt returns. In addition, MSU led the Big Ten last season with five blocked kicks and scored two touchdowns on special teams.
For the third consecutive season, veteran Dan Conroy (5-10, 186, Sr.-5) will handle the placekicking duties.
Conroy has made 82 percent of his field goals (32-for-39) for his career, which ranks first in the Michigan State record books and eighth among active FBS players. After making 14-of-15 field goals to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore, Conroy connected on 17 field goals in 2011, tying for eighth most in a MSU season. Named to the preseason watch list for the Lou Groza Award, Conroy has kicked 11 of his 32 career field goals from at least 40 yards out.
Kevin Muma (6-0, 195, Jr.) also returns for his third year as the starting kickoff specialist. Last season, Muma ranked among the FBS leaders in touchbacks (tied for 20th with 17) and kickoff average (33rd with 65.1 avg.). In addition, Muma will serve as the back-up placekicker, behind Conroy.
As a red-shirt freshman, Mike Sadler (6-0, 180, So.) demonstrated that he is one of the top punters in the nation in pinning opposing offenses deep in their own territory.
The Big Ten All-Freshman selection tied for ninth in the FBS with 10 punts inside the 10-yard line, and tied for 12th with 25 punts inside the 20. Sadler earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors on two occasions, was named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week following his performance in the win over Minnesota, and tied a career high with four punts inside the 20 against Georgia in the Outback Bowl.
At long snapper, incoming freshman Taybor Pepper (6-4, 185) will likely take over the starting duties after returning letterwinner Steve Moore (6-3, 225, Jr.) suffered a season-ending neck injury during a diving accident over the summer.
Nick Hill (5-8, 190, So.) will be the main kickoff returner after he produced one of the best years statistically in Michigan State history.
Hill's 999 kick return yards were the second most in a MSU single-season and eighth most in the Big Ten single-season record books, and he ranked fourth in the Big Ten with his 26.3-yard kickoff return average. He had five returns of 40-plus yards and 10 returns of 30-plus yards. Hill will also be looked to return punts this season with Keshawn Martin moving on to the NFL.
With more conference wins than any other Big Ten team the past four seasons, the pieces are in place for Michigan State to make another run at a conference championship and reach its ultimate destination: the Rose Bowl.
"I think we've laid a great foundation," said Dantonio. "We've won more maybe in the past couple years than maybe ever before. But with that being said, we're still not to where we need to go and we still have different things we need to be challenged with.
"That's the exciting part of football. It makes football a great sport. You have all these positions that have to marry up and become one at the end of the day. At the end of the day, it's how we play with energy. We have to focus on that in every aspect I can, and talk about how we're going to play as a team and a program, because that's a day to day thing. You have to be up every single day. You can't afford a day where you're just going through the motions and being complacent, because if you are, somebody's catching you, no question."