Oct. 16, 2012
By Mitch Lex, Michigan State Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, and attending the high school football powerhouse Dublin Coffman, linebacker Steve Gardiner was faced with some tough choices on where to continue his football career following his senior season.
While setting school single-season records in both tackles and tackles for loss and leading the Shamrocks to the state semifinals, Gardiner was a highly prized recruit throughout the Midwest. After receiving early offers from many Big Ten schools like Ohio State and Northwestern, he was still eagerly waiting an offer from one specific conference team - the Spartans.
"The recruiting process was a very lengthy one for me, and I didn't get an offer from Michigan State until relatively late in the process," Gardiner said.
After taking several unofficial trips to East Lansing, Gardiner was sold on the Spartans after his official visit.
"I took the opportunity to use all five of my official visits, but once I took my visit to Michigan State I knew it was the place for me," he said. "I got to meet the coaches and really get to know them. I also had a lot of fun spending time with the players."
And because Gardiner was coming from the Buckeye state, he has enjoyed a close bond with many of his fellow Spartans who played their high school football in Ohio.
"It's definitely a little bit of a brotherhood (being from Ohio)," said Gardiner. "A lot of us played against each other in high school or are very familiar with where they played. And we all come together with added motivation whenever we play Ohio State."
So when he was selected to represent the Spartans as the fourth captain against the Buckeyes on Sept. 29 in Spartan Stadium, it was definitely a moment he will never forget.
"It was an honor being able to represent all of the guys during such an emotional game and carry the torch for us," Gardiner said.
While Gardiner admits that he shares a unique bond with the other Spartans from Ohio, it's the tight-knit relationship of the entire team that he believes has led to the success on the field for MSU. Being a member of a dominating defense and a talented linebacker unit throughout his career, Gardiner has been able to identify what it takes to perform at such a high level.
"We are a very close unit and we have a lot of trust in each other, which is the key," he commented. "You can't get your job done if you don't trust that the guys behind you are doing their job. We've been blessed with a wonderful coach in (linebackers) Coach (Mike) Tressel. He always gets us ready to play on Saturdays and has really established the idea of trust, and that that is what will get us to our end goal."
Gardiner doesn't believe that the success of a defense can be measured in sacks or turnovers, but rather in consistency and chemistry. And since he first stepped on campus in 2008, Gardiner has noticed the Spartans have continually improved in this aspect - and the results have shown.
"It has been fun to see the improvement in our defense in terms of talent, but also in the character of our players and in the chemistry of our team, which I think has played a significant part in our improving record," said Gardiner, a three-year letterwinner who has 43 tackles in 38 career games. "This year we haven't had a huge number of sacks or turnovers, but everyone is doing their job and continuing to be more consistent. I think we can still be a great defense."
Gardiner highlights three themes that have motivated him and the rest of the team to succeed both in football and in life. He believes that these themes will be more crucial than ever with all of the Spartans' goals still in front of them.
"We talk about effort, toughness and knowledge as the keys that lead to success both on and off the field," he remarked. "If you have those three things you can reach any goal you have. And we still have all of our goals in front of us at this point. I believe that our trust in each other and keeping what we want to achieve in mind will lead to accomplishing what we believe we can."
And while Gardiner plans on taking these ideas of effort, toughness and knowledge with him to pursue a career in coaching, he wants to leave his own legacy as a Spartan behind.
"I want to be remembered as a hard worker who sacrificed for my teammates and made my team better," he said. "Being someone that was coachable and did the right thing, both when I was told and when I wasn't."
This feature was originally published in the Oct. 13 edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine.