Aug. 8, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The so-called "moment" arrived for Darian Hicks in the blink of an eye, maybe less.
It came Wednesday during Michigan State's first fully-padded, full-contact practice of preseason camp as Hicks, a true freshman cornerback from Solon, Ohio, prepared to return a punt.
"I was just looking at the ball and not the (coverage) guys coming down because I thought they'd be about 10 yards away and I'll have time to catch the ball, look down and make a cut," Hicks said. "That wasn't the case at all.
"I caught the ball, and as soon as I put my head down (red-shirt freshman defensive back) Mark Meyers was right there and he cleaned me up real good. So I was like, OK, these guys hit a lot harder than they ever did in high school. I would say that was my welcome-to-the-Big-Ten moment.
"Yeah, I have to be more aware."
It was a day of revelation for most, if not all, of MSU's first-year players coming to grips with the speed, complexity and physicality of the college game. Hicks is among freshmen head coach Mark Dantonio said have already proved themselves worthy of challenging for a spot in the playing rotation.
"My expectations are to compete through this camp and show the coaches what I can do," Hicks said. "In the end, it's their decision. If they want to redshirt me, I'll be OK with that, and if they want me to play, I'll accept the challenge."
"After my first hit, mentally I was like, `I'm here now so now it's time to do what you got to do,' " said Williams (6-1, 220). "In high school, I got hit a couple times like that, so it isn't like I never took a hit before. I know I can take big hits. It's just now, you have to be ready for anything."
"I'm not one of them guys that's just gonna let somebody bully me. I'm one of those guys who's going to give it back to them. I'm going to bring the power just like they're bringing it."
Williams has set some substantial short-term goals for himself.
"I'm trying to get at least 5 (yards) a pop," he said. "If I can get 5 a pop, I know they'll be happy because that's a first down every second play. This is one of the top defenses in the Big Ten, so I feel if I play against these guys hard and do great things, when I get on the field on game days I can do great things against other people. I know if I can take these hits, I can take those hits, too."
Gerald Holmes (6-0, 212), of Flint, felt he matched up well physically but said the biggest challenge so far is mastering the intricacies of the playbook.
"It's really just grasping everything at once," he said. "It goes really fast. In high school, you might have 10 plays and you're good for that week. Now we're getting everything every week. I think I fit in as a freshman learner. I'm just trying to soak up everything first before I put out a judgment on where I'm going to be (on the depth chart).
"You do have big guys everywhere. I'm used to being taller than my linemen and now everybody's bigger. (But) I feel I blend in pretty good. It's not really too much about who's bigger, who's stronger, who's faster. It's really about heart and putting in the extra work. I just feel the (upperclassmen) are a little more educated, that's the only thing."
In addition to getting a look at running back, R.J. Shelton, of Beaver Dam, Wisc., has been taking turns at wide receiver, a position he also played in high school, because Dantonio wants as many chances to evaluate his on-field performance as possible.
"I like running back and wide receiver, so whatever the teams needs, I'll do it," he said. "The biggest transition is just getting all the plays, different information, taking it a step at a time and not getting frustrated. Credit to the older guys, they've been doing a great job of helping us.
"I feel I'm doing OK, but there's always room for improvement. You've just got to get better every day. It's tough, but you've got to keep pushing."
"Max gave me a hard forearm across (my chest)," said Terry, who was Williams' high school teammate. "I felt that one."
"We all have been running the same plays, getting them down," Terry said. "I feel like I'm getting better every day. My first day was just crazy, throwing me in there and you've got to do this and you've got to do that.
"It's tough, but I'm getting better every day and today was definitely my best day. I was just reading the defenses better when they were shifting and I had a touchdown against the first defense in skelly to (Matt) Macksood over Kurtis Drummond, so that was definitely a big confidence-booster for me. Now I have to just keep going from here."
Although Jon Reschke, of Sterling Heights, is starting his career behind Bullough, he feels as though the coaches are letting him set the bar for himself.
"They're pushing us very hard, and they expect a lot out of us (like) they wouldn't want to redshirt us," Reschke said. "So we're preparing hard to not be redshirted. (Bullough) has definitely taken me under his wing and is preparing me. He's an incredible leader and teacher. I'm just learning so many different formations, audibles and calls I can make, and he's teaching me all of them.
"Everyday I see a different signal he gets. It's incredible."
"He's teaching me a lot and all the older guys are helping us get adjusted to the new system," Jones said. "Finally being able to take somebody to the ground is different from just being able to thud somebody.
"It was fun."
Jones is wary being blindsided when he least expects it.
"I'm keeping my head on a swivel for the most part," he said. "I don't want that moment to happen, but if it does, you just get yourself up, dust yourself off and keep playing."
It's not a matter of "if," but when.