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Spartans Officially Begin Preseason Practice

Aug. 2, 2018

EAST LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan State football team held its first practice of preseason camp on Thursday at the John and Becky Duffey Practice Fields. Under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low-80s, the Spartans practiced for two-and-a-half hours in helmets, jerseys and shorts.

Following practice, 12th-year MSU head coach Mark Dantonio addressed the media to talk about the first day and the mindset of the team heading into the season.

“It was a good first day,” said Dantonio. “I think it is the 12th year now doing this and I think everybody in America has a lot of optimism on the first day. Shorts practice, everyone is ready to go. Can we sustain? That is the big question that you ask yourself as you go through it. We have got depth, I think we have some very good skilled players as well to go along with that. Right now there is a lot of retention. There always has been on the first day from our older players, but we have 41 of the top 44 players back (on the depth chart), so there is going to be a lot of retention. Right now the challenge will be if the young players can catch up to be a part of this…But until the pads come on and you start moving people around, you know, it is difficult to say. It is a good first day.”

But as Dantonio stressed, it’s how the team maintains the intensity during preseason camp that is key.

“A lot of optimism (on the first day),” he said. “This game can become a grind on you. How are you going to react when it’s practice 20? We’ve got work to do, but it’s a starting point. The starting point has always been pretty good around here and I would say this one was excellent, just in terms of the enthusiasm, the attention to detail, the knowledge of what they’re supposed to be doing and how well and how fast we executed.”

DANTONIO IMPRESSED WITH DEPTH AND LEADERSHIP: Michigan State returns 48 letterwinners, including 19 position starters, which is tied for most in the nation. That experience is also beneficial in terms of leadership for the Spartans.

 

 

“I think we have good leadership here and the more guys that lead, the better your football team usually is,” Dantonio remarked. “That’s usually about what have you done lately.”

The positive chemistry was also on display in the first practice.

“Day one is about the same,” said Dantonio. “I walk around, I try to watch every different position and make some notes on how things are running. Watch our coaches teach, watch our players learn, watch the effort, watch the enthusiasm and how our players interact with each other and teach each other. I have always seen good things when I have done that and today, I mean I have been saying for six months that this football team is very good with chemistry. It is as good as I have seen really. I don’t want to speak on other teams, but ours is as good as I have seen.”

TYSON SMITH OUT: Dantonio announced that senior cornerback Tyson Smith will not play in 2018. Smith suffered a stroke in November 2016 but was cleared to play last season, and returned an interception for a touchdown in his first game back against Bowling Green on Sept. 2. He was nominated for the 2017 Orange Bowl Courage Award, which honors players in college football who show great courage in the face of adversity.

“At this point in time it’s in his best interest not to play football, so he’ll be out here like we’ve done with all of our other players,” Dantonio said. “He’ll have some kind of role within our program to keep him involved. Right now we have him working as a student assistant with the defensive backs. We want to keep our guys involved and make sure they have a great experience at Michigan State.”

SPARTANS RANKED 12TH IN AMWAY PRESEASON COACHES POLL: Michigan State is ranked 12th in the Amway Preseason Coaches Poll, released Thursday. The Spartans were also ranked in the Preseason Coaches Poll in 2016 (No. 11), 2015 (No. 6), 2014 (No. 8), 2012 (No. 13), 2011 (No. 17), 2002 (No. 18), 2000 (No. 22), 1998 (No. 23) and 1991 (No. 22).

PLAYERS ALSO SPEAK: Five players – junior linebacker Joe Bachie, senior wide receiver Felton Davis III, senior linebacker Andrew Dowell, senior tight end Matt Sokol and junior defensive end Raequan Williams – also met with the media following practice.

Below are selected quotes from the players:

Junior linebacker Joe Bachie

On being back at camp...
I am very excited, this is my first time back since the Holiday Bowl pretty much. We have got a lot of new faces, a lot of competition this fall, so it is going to be a fun camp and I am looking forward to it.

On the big expectations for this season...
It is fine with me. I don’t really pay attention to it too much going forward into the season and getting close to the season. We have a good team out here and a lot of guys that like to compete, especially among the linebackers. We’ve got three, four deep, that we feel very comfortable with.

On Antjuan Simmons looking healthy and ready to go...
He is my roommate again in the fall so it is going to be a fun one with him. He is looking good.

On the message to the freshmen...
Their minds are running one hundred miles an hour. I remember my first spring ball when I came up early. You have to have an older guy step up and say something. Tell them ‘slow it down, no one is going to yell at you, just do the personal things right and let it come to you. Let the game come to you like you do since you have been five, six years old.’ A lot of the young guys, today was kind of an eye opener to them. We will watch film with them today, they will learn, come back out tomorrow, still make mistakes, but they will be better.

Senior wide receiver Felton Davis III

On the extra leadership role he’s taken, especially with the wide receiver group…
Being more vocal and allowing myself to lead by example and also by talking to people. With me being one of the oldest guys in the room and I played in big games, I’ve been to Michigan, to Ohio State and some people are just trying to catch on and get the groove; certain things that I’ve seen that some people haven’t, so I try to help them in every scenario that’s going to come, everything that they might encounter as a wide receiver, even that I’ve encountered being from freshman year not playing to now. I feel like I’ve been through most of it, just about everything, so I can help. On guys that have made improvements…
Basically everybody, but I know C.J. (Hayes), Laress (Nelson), Brandon Sowards, he’s back, back being quick. Cam (Chambers) has been playing pretty good. Then we got Speedy, he’s fast, obviously we call him Speedy, that’s Jalen Nailor, you know, Jahz Watts. We’ve got a lot of talent in our wide receiver room.

On any goals the offense has…
Score points. That’s the biggest goal; score points and no turnovers. We had a lot of turnovers last year with fumbles. I think we were like second in the Big Ten with 12 fumbles, and we don’t want that to happen this year. We want to take care of the ball and put up points in the redzone and get down there.

On if the mentality at camp is different this year compared to last year…
Oh yes, when we got into here at camp, like I said, it wasn’t like a teach day. This was everybody just come out here and play football. Being that I think we lost three people that played last year, starters, so everybody else is back. Whether it be with two years under their belt, one year under their belt, or three so it was more of a day where we’re just getting our feet back on the ground and getting rolling.

On the confidence of coming into the season knowing 19 of 22 starters are returning from a year ago…
Confidence man, throughout the whole building is skyrocketing right now. Everybody feels like they’re the best player when they step on the field, so when you’ve got 11 people and then put our offense versus our defense, that’s 22 people who feel like they’re the best, then it’s going to be a lot of competing; people even making each other better. Confidence is high.

On coming into this season with high expectations surrounding the team…
It’s a blessing, at the same time, we set our goals high, super high. That way people may feel like it’s not reachable. With this team that we have now, it’s just a different feel throughout the team.

On if he’s amazed by how he’s matured off the field from when he first started…
Yes. That’s just a test to what Coach D puts us through and also me leaving home. Going 10 hours away from home, you’ve got to step up to the plate. People come out here and you’re not known to most people in Michigan like that so I come out here and I give my best to my teammates every day and to myself. I just owe that to myself and my parents.

On what he says to younger players to help them...
It depends. Just help them to be in the right position. I was just trying to help with going in the right position. It depends on what’s going on, it feels like I’ve been through a lot, so I know I can help minimize what somebody else is going through.

On being a leader now...
It means a lot. It’s a thank you from my teammates also, meaning I come out here and I bust my butt everyday, in the weight room, on the field, I try to bring people along with me, that way I’m not leaving anybody behind. That’s just the person that I’ve always been, but now it’s just a blessing to be considered one of the leaders on the team.

Senior linebacker Andrew Dowell

On who turns around when someone yells ‘hey Dowell’…
Me and David already have a thing where, no matter what name they say, we both turn because we don’t know who’s calling. So it’s great to have him (his younger brother Michael) up here.

On him, David and Michael being numbers 5-6-7…
It’s a cool thing. I’ve always been five, David had the opportunity to change to six last year, and then we were talking with Michael, ‘you might as well try to get four or seven.’ He was able to get seven so it’s a great thing.

On what it means for his family to send three sons to the same place…
It’s a testament to the program and a testament to Coach D…There’s multiple brothers on the team and there’s been multiple brothers in the past. Michigan State is a family atmosphere.

On what it will be like for his parents…
They’re looking forward to coming to all the games this year. They’re driving to every game, flying to Nebraska and Arizona State. It will be a great family affair.

On the biggest difference between him in 2015 and now…
Just experience, experience. A whole lot of reps and a lot of maturity. I’m tasked with being a senior leader this year and that’s something I look forward to doing with this team.

On his reaction to Tyson Smith stepping away…
It’s a tough situation. He addressed us as a team. That’s a guy we love, that’s a guy we care about, but he’s going to help out with the coaching staff and whatnot, so he’ll be around and that’ll be good. It’s just a tough situation.

On the confidence going into this season with 19 of 22 starters back…
That’s huge, getting everybody back. Us older guys have to use that to teach the younger guys and the experience that we have, it will go a long way this year.

On being able to fine tune what the team accomplished last year…
Like Coach D always says, ‘the best team is a player-led team.’ So us older guys that know a bunch of stuff, we’re able to help out the younger guys and help out guys that are behind us or whatever, so it’s been a great thing for us.

On having his younger brother on the team…
It’s cool. Me and David are coaching him up on the sidelines, giving him little tips. He always asks us questions and stuff like that, so it’s a great feeling.

On being back to the field after missing spring practice…
I love playing football, so I was itching to get back. It’s good to be back out here; Joe (Bachie), Antjuan (Simmons) and I, we all got fresh legs and looking forward to building on it this fall.

On the origin of team motto ‘Heave’…
The way ‘Heave’ started, every Friday we have a Spartan Challenge, I was in charge of setting up the Spartan Challenge and at the end of it we had a tug-o-war and David’s team was actually unmatched so they were the underdogs and the other team was the bigger, stronger guys. The mantra behind it was everybody on David’s team was pulling at one time so they were all saying ‘Heave, heave.’ The underdog was able to win because with everybody pulling at one time, it’s better than everybody just pulling. Everybody combines their effort, everybody gets behind one goal and that become our mantra this year.

On if the mantra has stuck so far…
Coach D is running with it for sure. He’s all for it. He’s got it on everything now so that’s something we’re all behind. Looking forward to using it to our advantage.

Senior tight end Matt Sokol

On individual improvement over the summer…
A lot of film. I have gone through a lot of our film from last season. Worked on trying to make the big plays and learn things, see things that I didn’t see earlier in the season and be able to make more pre-snap reads to see what coverage I am going to get. Learn more of the fronts, more of the big picture of what is going on.

On blocking improvement…
I think I had a really strong spring with my blocking performance. I am excited for some of the things that we are going to do as a running offense this season. I think that will be a really key strong point for us. We spend a lot of time on our footwork and hand placement.

On Matt Dotson
Dotson is going to be a really great player. I am excited for him and all the progress he has made. We all have things to get better at and learn, but he has made a lot of progress especially mentally. He is just a good player, has good hands, runs good routes and a quick guy. I am excited for him.

On being every down tight ends and physical fitness…
In our offense for all of the different things that we do we have got to be in shape enough to be out there for long drives, 10, 12 play drives, and to be able to do all the things we are asked. We have to know so much knowledge, so you just have to be on top of it. It is a huge mental preparation game for us to know all the different things, all the different routes, all the blocking concepts, so to be an every down tight end takes a lot of work and I think we have put in that work this offseason and will continue to do it this August.

On being a senior…
I am embracing every single moment of it. I love this university and I can’t believe my five years has gone by so fast here. It has flown by. I have had the privilege to experience the absolute highs and lows of college football. I have seen a lot of different things here going into the season and embracing all of it, leaving everything I have out on the field, doing everything I can and fully committing myself to be the best that I can be for this program.

On high expectations for the team…
It still stays the same. We just need to keep our head down and play Michigan State football. The hype and all that stuff, we just need to keep our head focused, put our head down, go to work and do the work like Coach D says. We know internally what we need to do and what we have to get better at. What we have to accomplish as a team, as an offensive or defensive unit to reach our goals that we have. I think we try to block out all that and keep it internal and create our own excitement out here on this field and just get ready to bring it.

Senior defensive tackle Raequan Williams

On hard to believe about being a leader…
It is different. Now I am leading everywhere. I am the oldest guy in the room, so now I have to act like the oldest guy and help out the younger guys.

On being a leader and one of the older guys...
We get to coach up all the younger guys a lot more and get the reps out here in practice. As you can see, we’ve got a lot a depth and the younger guys are willing to learn.

On being a preseason ranked team...
Of course we do. That is why you do it, you want the bullseye on your back, you want to be the one. That is why we play the game and we are excited about it.

On being referred to being the mayor of Chicago and wanting to be the mayor…
(laughing) Ah, I don’t know why Coach D put so much pressure on me by saying that but it just speaks to what he thinks of me. He thinks I am a great guy and I contribute to the team in certain ways.

On being a leader at Michigan State University...
That is big. We pride ourselves big on that because we are a light to this community and this university. We get out and try to impact our community and our university in a better way because there is a lot going on here. We are going to stick with it, togetherness is everything.

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