Aug. 7, 2017
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State held its annual media day Monday afternoon in the Izzo Family Media Center inside Spartan Stadium.
Below are quotes from the defensive players that spoke at media day.
Sophomore defensive end Kenny Willekes:
Q. Was there anything that inspired you guys to do it or was it just time to change it up in time for camp?
Yeah, we wanted to do something a little fun and different this year. It was kind of a last minute decision, so we headed down to the barbershop and mixed it up a little bit.
Q. How has camp been going so far with Coach Snyder now at defensive ends coach?
Coach Snyder moved to defensive ends this spring and he has helped me a lot with the overall scheme of the defense. He helps me to know where the guys behind me and next to me are and what they are doing.
Q. What does it mean to wear Michigan State across your chest, especially after what happened last season and being responsible for bringing this team back up where it needs to be?
It means a lot to me and it's a big honor to play for Michigan State, coming from a small school as NorthPointe Christian. Last season was disappointing, but we're trying to put that behind us. We've been working real hard this offseason to get Spartan Football back where it used to be.
Q. Coach Dantonio talks about the inches of the game and what does that mean to you?
It means going out every day and not just throwing our helmet out there, but focusing on the little things that is wrong with our game and improve on those each and every day.
Q. What has changed in the team's mindset from last year?
Last year I think we were expecting a little more of big things, coming off a Big Ten Championship. I don't think we worked as hard as we should have. This year, we realize that we need to get back to that Spartan Dawg mentality of hard, tough Spartan Dawg defense.
Q. What does Coach Dantonio's three percent rule mean to you?
We can't waste any reps. Whenever you're out there, you can't waste any reps. You got to get better. You either get better or you get worse."
Q. Do you think the team will surprise anybody in any aspect of the game?
We're going to surprise some people. I want to put my shoulder pads on a guy during the beginning of the game. That's my mindset. We're going to fight and battle back. We'll be ready to go.
Q. Who are the leaders of the defense and who's the most vocal?
I would say Chris Frey and myself. In the defensive backs, Khari Willis is very vocal, Grayson Miller, Matt Morrissey, Andrew Dowell, I could go on. We're trying to spread our leaders. Byron Bullough is ready to go as well.
Junior safety Grayson Miller:
Q. How have you guys transitioned from 2016 to 2017?
At the very beginning of winter workouts, we were still reminded on a consistent basis of everything that had gone on, but about halfway through winter workouts, we decided it was time to move on and start to focus on the new season. We have our new leaders and it's time to start fresh. Everyone bought into that and we're moving forward day to day.
Q. We heard there were some new chemistry building activities during the offseason?
Yes there was a basketball tournament. During the spring and summer semesters, we met as a team every Friday, with no coaches. It was kind of just an open forum, where whoever had something on their heart came up and said it. There was no bickering, just letting the team know about possible situations, both good and bad. We kept everybody in the loop. It's good to branch out from your roommates and position groups too.
Senior linebacker Chris Frey:
Q. How do you get through those tough days of camp when you start getting tired?
The days start getting longer so this is really where we have to pick it up and push one another and bring one another along because this is where we're made, this is what we're made of and we can't be down on ourselves. We can't be down during the middle of camp. You have to really pick it up and grind through it.
Q. You've seen probably a lot now over your time here. What's been unique about this group, this time of year, this year?
I think one of the things that's really interesting about this group is that we come every single day and it doesn't matter who it is on the field, everybody is bringing each other. Everybody is getting together and trying to push one another because we know that we have great guys on this team, guys that want to work really hard and that want to win. I think that we have that opportunity with this group. They bring it everyday.
Q. This is your last go around, this your last time. Does that mean something to you?
Yes, sir. Oh, absolutely. Coach D and Coach Mannie always say, `Seniors have to have their best year.' Last year seniors didn't really have their best year and being friends with some of those guys, you know how hard it is. Being a senior I don't want to go out like that, I want to go out on top. We have our goals set and we're going to fight for them.
Q. Your coach shuttered a little bit up there when we talked about 3-9. Just hearing those numbers, does that do the same to you?
Yes, it's not who we are as a team and that's what we're trying to move on from. We have the guys who continue to be able to do that and that's what we're planning on doing. We're just going to come to work every single day and take it day by day because we're not going to look forward to the first game because we have the rest of camp in front of us. We're not going to look forward to playing Michigan or Ohio State, because we have to focus on the games that are first, second and third and take it week by week and day by day.
Q. Coach talks about the inches so much. What does that mean, how do you find them, and where does that even come from?
It comes from, it's the little things, you can't focus on the big picture without the little things that make the big picture. That's one of the things that we've really been focusing on. We didn't find the inches last year late in the game and that's one of the things as a defense that we're focused on because we have to win in the fourth quarter and we didn't do that last year. We're really striving to do that this year and pound it into people's heads everyday at practice.
Q. From your perspective, what's the most obvious thing that's different in the locker room?
I don't think there's really very much difference, honestly. Just different faces. We have all of the freshmen in here. The team chemistry is definitely different. We have a lot of team chemistry and guys that are really coming together to form a great team and we have the opportunity to do great things this year. That's the biggest difference, just the faces and the team chemistry.
Q. How important is the non-conference season for you guys this year? Does this team need a little bit of a jolt of confidence? Do you need something good to happen early on?
I think non-conference every year is always helpful to the team just to get our feet ready for the Big Ten because we know how heavy it is and how many great teams we have in the Big Ten. It's always helpful but at the same time we have great teams coming into non-conference so we're really just focusing on, like I said, one game at a time and focus on Bowling Green to start with.
Q. With such a young defense do you guys know what might this defense be really good at? Is there something that has defined itself yet in your eyes?
Frey: Not really, honestly. I think we're an all-around really good defense. We're starting to get that Spartan Dawg mentality back and the guys on this defense are really coming to work every single day. We have great guys on this defense, and there's not one person or one thing that I can point out and say, `You know, this is something we're so much better at' because we're a lot better at a lot of things.
Q. The linebacker group loses Riley Bullough, loses Jon Reschke, two leaders. Do you see yourself stepping in right away and keeping the guys in line in the linebacker group?
Yes, I mean we did lose a lot. To me, honestly, I feel like I've been a leader on this team and on our defense for a long time now. Now I'm the guy that's always bringing energy and always talking, trying to bring everybody with me. Honestly, not much has changed. With Riley going down last year, it really gave me an opportunity to step up and be the leader on the defense. I took full advantage of it and I feel like I've been a leader on our defense ever since then.
Junior linebacker Andrew Dowell:
Q. Seven days in. What can you tell us about camp so far?
Everybody's been enthused. We're out there competing and getting after it.
Q. It's a long offseason. When does that `enthused' boil over? How do you control that emotion?
You control some of that emotion by getting some of that out, which we've been able to do with pads coming out. We've been out there hitting, stuff like that, and getting after it. Just continuing to take steps all the way up until game one.
Q. Game one. Does it feel like it's that far away? How long has this offseason been for you?
It's been a really long offseason. We're only a month away now. It's just about using every day to get better for that game more than anticipation to speed it up.
Q. What's the most exciting thing about this team?
The most exciting thing about this team is, personally I like it when people doubt us. We're in a position to prove a lot of people wrong and surprise people. That's a very exciting thing to go forward.
Q. Do you think you'll surprise some people? Why?
I definitely think we will surprise some teams this year. Surprise teams, surprise fans. We just have a really good team. We're working. Because of last year's record we're automatically going to be lower on rankings and all of that different type of stuff.
Q. You heard Coach say out loud, `3-9.' I've never heard him say that out loud. When you hear him say that, what does that do to you?
It's motivation for all of us. We come out to every practice. Obviously that's something we've put behind us but it's something that's in the back of our minds. It's a bitter taste in our mouths and we look forward to overcoming it this year.
Q. How have player meetings helped this team as far as togetherness of the group?
I would say we're a lot closer as a team this year. Also with the freshmen being able to come up for mini camp, a bunch of us older guys know the freshmen better and have a better bond. Coach D moved guys in different places in the locker room. The unity is much better than it has been in previous years.
Q. Who's a guy that's going to surprise us? A couple of years ago Le'Veon Bell came out of nowhere and surprised us. Who's this year's version of a guy that no one's really talking about, but you guys know is going to surprise us?
Jacub Panasiuk. He's shown some stuff early on. He's a d-end, and will be a rush end.
Q. Since you're a defensive guy you have a different perspective of the offense. Who's a guy on the offensive side of the ball, maybe skill guy that's going to kind of surprise us?
Possibly Cody White. He's a young guy. Deep-threat kind of ball. He looks good and has been practicing really well.
Q. What are your expectations for the defense as a whole and the linebacker group?
As a defense as a whole, we had a dip year. As a team and as a defense. It's about re-establishing who we are. The word Coach Mannie uses all the time is "reaffirmation" so that's what we plan to get back to.
Senior linebacker Shane Jones:
Q. As seniors, how have you helped the younger guys?
Our biggest thing is to help bring along the younger guys and make sure they're ready for the season.
Q. Looking back, what is something that you wish you would have known as one of the younger guys, that you tell them?
For me, the biggest thing that I took away from a lot of seniors is handling adversity. Just going through this process for four or five years, everything is not going to go your way. As you look back to last season, everything didn't go our way. That's the game. It's handling adversity. For the younger guys, always stay positive. You have to be able to handle certain situations.
Sophomore defensive lineman Raequan Williams:
Q. How do you think you guys will move forward this year?
I think we will move forward just fine. We lost a good d-tackle but I feel like there's a lot more depth in our DLine. I feel like there's a lot more depth and a lot more people will be ready to play.
Q. How do you feel like you've individually developed over this?
Everyday I come to work. I come to get better everyday no matter what. I feel like I just try everything everyday to get better. I think I've taken a big step in everything. Just working. Working everyday.
Sophomore cornerback/wide receiver Justin Layne:
Q. When did you find out that you would be playing cornerback?
The week after we played Indiana was the first time that I played corner at Michigan State. I back pedaled a little bit, and I've been cornerback ever since.
Q. Talk about your first interception.
Layne: I know we were in Cover 2. I just made a play on the receiver coming out to the fly and I just caught the ball. It's crazy because it happened so fast.
Q. Did you ever think that that was going to be your first touchdown?
No, sir. I was thinking that my first touchdown would a receiver touchdown, so that was kind of fun.
Q. Did playing receiver last year help you when playing corner?
Oh, definitely. Especially with the ball skills and just having a feel for the game and where the ball is going to be. As a receiver you know certain routes are going to happen in certain areas, so that definitely helps as a cornerback.
Junior safety Khari Willis:
Q. Is it hard to shine in practice if you don't take as many snaps?
Not really, it's just making the most out of the snaps that you get. You don't always have to be in on a play to show what you can do. It is nice to make plays. We have a pretty good amount of plays. We haven't scrimmaged yet so we'll see how it ends up.
Q. What does your past starting experience do for you entering this year?
I don't want to say that it did too much because it's a new year. New challenges every year. But, it's definitely experience. It's a learning experience from wins and losses that we have to pass. It gives me confidence to be in a position that I've been in before. So, we're just going to roll with the punches.
Sophomore defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk:
Q. Raequan says is a fan of yours, what do you think of Raequan Williams?
Rae's my partner in crime, so I feel like this year we're going to do a lot of things together. Last year we were in with Malik or Kevin Williams or Brandon Clemons so we didn't really have that bond that we have now when we're together. Now that it's just me and him and the guys behind us, I feel like we'll create a bond. Rae is one of the greatest guys I know. The things that he says sometimes I just take it back and think, `Wow, what he just said really made an impact on my life.
Junior punter Jake Hartbarger:
Q. What are some of your goals as a special teams unit heading into the season?
We have some pretty big goals this season since we have such a good group of guys coming back, we're pretty deep on punt. So our goals for the season are to lead the nation in net punt and to do that, it's going to take the whole team as a group to come together. It's going to take me to put the punts where they need to be, with the right hang time and everything. I feel confident that we can do that.
Q. What are some things that you've done in the offseason to get better at strengthening the leg, foot, the mind and body?
I've worked out with Brandon Fields quite a bit this offseason. He knows so much about punting and it's nice for him to pinpoint with me anything that's going wrong. He really knows the game so that was a big help for me. When I go back home I know he's always there to help me.
Q. As a special teams unit, I know that you guys aren't involved in practice all of the time. What are some things that you guys do as a special teams unit to stay sharp all of the time at practice?
This year we have Coach Rayner, he's new to the staff. I'm glad he's with us. He helps keeping us on task. We go through the day, we have our team periods, but after that we go through and look at what we need to do through the day whether it's work on field goals, different aspects of punt like pooch punt, rugby. So we go through all of the different drills.
Q. Is there a hobby you guys have, somewhere you like to go hang out on your own away from football?
We like to play cards a lot, we play euchre. We do a couple of things, we also play Xbox and stuff.
Q. Do a lot of young people like to play euchre still?
It's kind of team thing, Coach D brought it up that we were all going to play as a team. The specialists like to kind of get off and do our own thing and play cards by ourselves.