B.J. Cunningham: Flying High Above the Rest
Nov. 21, 2011
By Brittany McCormick, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Every time the ball is thrown toward senior B.J. Cunningham, Spartan fans hold their breath in anticipation to see what kind of spectacular catch the wide receiver will make next.
Known for his athletic catches, Cunningham leads the team this season in receptions (61), receiving yards (1,005) and touchdown receptions (7).
This special skill could be attributed to his experience playing wide receiver since his junior year of high school. Or it could come from his athleticism from playing both striker and midfield in soccer. Or it might be from his years of playing shooting guard in basketball.
But according to Cunningham, his knack for making amazing acrobatic catches just comes from hanging out.
"Me and my old roommate, Mark Dell, would just be sitting around on the coach in the living room, bored," recalled Cunningham. "We would just toss the football back and forth to each other from the opposite side of the room. I would try and make one-handed catches like falling off the couch. Honestly, I feel like that's where it comes from because we had been doing it for four years."
His catches not only are fun to watch, but they have secured him a spot in Michigan State football history. Cunningham broke Matt Trannon's record of 148 career catches in the Spartans' dominating 44-0 win over Florida Atlantic. And like usual, his catch that broke the school record was an interesting one.
"I had bobbled the ball - it should have counted as three catches," Cunningham said with a laugh.
"It was just the love I felt afterwards (on what he remembers most). I knew people knew about it, but I didn't realize people really knew, like the whole crowd. As soon as I caught it the crowd went nuts. That was a great feeling. My teammates were
keeping track of my catches more than I was. They were happy for me. It felt great. Everybody was uplifting."
Cunningham is now up to 200 career receptions, a record that will be tough to break for future Spartan wide receivers. He also ranks third in MSU history in receiving yards with 2,785, and has a chance to set that record as well before the season is over, as he needs 208 more yards to pass Andre Rison (2,992 yards).
Not only is Cunningham good at catching the ball, he's good at catching the ball in the end zone. The Westerville, Ohio, native has tallied 20 touchdowns so far in his career - tied for third-most ever by a Spartan wide receiver - and has been a key part in many of MSU's memorable victories over the past four years. There is one touchdown though that stands out in Cunningham's memory.
"My most memorable catch was against Wisconsin my sophomore year," he said. "It was a touchdown. Kirk (Cousins) just threw it and I jumped, trying to catch it. I fell and bobbled it and landed with it on my chin with one hand. They reviewed it but it was a touchdown. It was a fun catch."
Cunningham was also recently part of a memorable touchdown that had to be reviewed while playing Wisconsin. Except this time he didn't catch it with his chin.
With time expiring in the Spartans' home game against No. 4 Wisconsin this season and the score tied at 31, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw a 44-yard Hail Mary pass intended for Cunningham to catch for the go-ahead touchdown to win the game. As most Spartan fans know, that's not exactly how it played out.
"I was the jump man," Cunningham explained. "Kirk was supposed to throw the ball and I was supposed to jump for it and then go from there. It was a perfect ball in the air. I saw one of the defenders jump in the air for it. It went right threw his hands and I got hit. Good thing I had a visor on because it just bounced right off of my visor and into the air. Keith grabbed it. I didn't even know what happened; I thought I lost the game. I got on one knee and started praying. All of a sudden it was called a TD and I was on Keith's back, jumping around. It was amazing."
While Cunningham has been extremely successful over the past four years, he struggled a bit when he arrived on campus in 2007 and had to redshirt. But Cunningham said his mother, who he credits as both his mentor and inspiration, helped him get through the season, and he eventually excelled on the scout team.
Cunningham was able to learn from the experience and found the determination to battle through his redshirt season. As a red-shirt freshman in 2009, the 6-2, 215-pound wide receiver saw action in all 13 games, and started in 12.
"I learned a lot playing in 2009," he said. "Just as far as competitiveness, the speed, the jump I had from my freshman to my sophomore year was good because I knew what was going on. I could anticipate more because I had a year under my belt."
Hearing Cunningham talk about his focus and determination on the field, it's not shocking that he was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection by the media in 2010 or that he was named to Phil Steele's midseason All-Big Ten team for this season. For him, when he's about to make a big play, the fast pace of football turns into slow motion.
"I have a weird focus," said Cunningham. "When the ball is in the air, I don't know what happens. Everything turns into slow motion. The ball just slows down and I lock in. It makes it easier. I don't know how it happens but I feel like the ball goes in slow motion and I just snatch it out of the air every single time. I just stay focused on the run."
Cunningham will pursue football at the next level after graduating with a degree in sociology in December. Before that time comes though, he still feels there is more for him and his teammates to accomplish.
"It felt great to be a part of winning the Big Ten last year," Cunningham said. "I've never won a championship like that in competitive sports. It felt great to go out with a win. I can't even describe it - it felt amazing. But that's what we're going to try and do again this year. Our goals are to win the conference again and win the Rose Bowl. We're going to make it happen."
GETTING TO KNOW B.J. Cunningham
Favorite type of food: "I love Mexican and Chinese food a lot."
One thing Spartan fans don't know about you: "I'm left handed."
Favorite sport other than football: Basketball
Favorite Basketball team: Miami Heat
One thing you can't live without: "My cell phone."
If you could live anywhere in the world it would be: Jamaica
Favorite card game: Spades
This feature was originally published in the Nov. 19, 2011, edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine. Updates made following the Indiana game.
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