Jones Named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year
Linebacker Greg Jones joins placekicker Brett Swenson and wide receiver Blair White on the All-Big Ten First Team, as selected by the league's head coaches.
Nov. 23, 2009
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State junior linebacker Greg Jones, who leads the Big Ten and ranks second in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision with 141 tackles, has been named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year by the league's media panel. His career-best 141 tackles rank as the eighth-best single-season total in MSU history. Jones becomes the first Spartan to earn Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors since the inception of the award in 1982.
The 6-foot-1, 228-pound Jones joins two of his Spartan teammates - senior placekicker Brett Swenson and fifth-year senior wide receiver Blair White - on the All-Big Ten First Team, as selected by the conference's head coaches. Jones and Swenson also have been named to the media's All-Big Ten First Team. A total of 10 Spartans received All-Big Ten recognition on the first team, second team or honorable mention.
Jones ranks second in the NCAA FBS in tackles per game (11.8) and tied for 24th in sacks (0.75 per game). He also is listed among the Big Ten leaders in sacks (fourth) and tackles for loss (tied for eighth at 1.12 per game). Jones leads the team in tackles (141 total), tackles for loss (13.5 for 68 yards), sacks (9.0 for 53 yards) and production points (247). He became the first Spartan to record back-to-back 100-tackle seasons since 2003-04 when both linebacker Ronald Stanley and free safety Jason Harmon reached the milestone.
Jones reached double-figure tackles for the eighth time this season in MSU's regular-season and home finale against No. 13 Penn State, matching his career high with 15 tackles. He recorded 2.5 tackles for loss (11 yards) against the Nittany Lions, including 1.5 sacks (6 yards).
He also posted double-digit tackles against Montana State (14), Central Michigan (15), Wisconsin (14), Illinois (11), Northwestern (14), Iowa (12) and Minnesota (12). Jones produced a career-best two sacks (9 yards) in MSU's 24-14 Homecoming victory over Northwestern.
"Greg Jones possesses all of the tools, the tangibles and intangibles, that make him a special player," MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said. "He's an extremely tenacious and instinctive player. Greg plays with great effort and toughness, plus he's strong and quick. He's the clear leader of our defense, and when he's going, we're going as a unit.
"His selection as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year also points the way for other great linebackers to come here to Michigan State and make a statement. With the media attention this program gets and the defensive scheme that we play, great linebackers can come here knowing that they will get plenty of opportunities to make plays."
"I'm very happy to receive this honor, but it's really a team award," Jones said. "The D-line did a great job this year, freeing up the linebackers to make plays. That's the way our system works, and that's why I love it so much. I really do give a lot of credit to the D-line, and I tell them before every game that I need them because everything starts up front. We have to win the job up front, if I'm going to have opportunities to make plays. It's my job to help those guys out as much as I can by making the right calls. So it's all tied together.
"I'm probably proudest of my consistency. I really wanted to remain consistent throughout the season. I know I had a couple of games where I didn't reach double digits (in tackles), but in those games, the team played better and that's most important. I want to play well each and every week, and I want to help those guys around me play better as well."
Jones, who was selected as the 2009 Big Ten Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in July, acknowledged that he never allowed himself to get caught up in the hype.
"I really didn't think about it a whole lot," Jones said. "I thought about it a little bit after it was first announced, but all I wanted to do was go out, execute and play to the best of my ability every game. I'm excited about receiving the award, but I was simply focused on improving my play from last year. It was my goal to improve in every area of my game and become a more disruptive player, and I think my numbers support that, with more tackles and more sacks than a year ago."
The Cincinnati, Ohio, native has posted double-digit tackles in 15 of his last 19 games overall, averaging 11.9 stops (227 total) during that stretch. A model of consistency, Jones has led the team in tackles in 22 of the last 25 games.
Jones has started 32 of 38 career games, including 26 consecutive starting assignments. He has 346 career tackles, including 36.0 for losses (139 yards) and 15.5 sacks (87 yards). Jones ranks among NCAA FBS active leaders in tackles per game (fourth with 9.1 avg.) and total tackles (seventh with 346). He already ranks among MSU's all-time leaders in tackles for loss (fifth) and total tackles (tied for ninth). Jones has produced double-figure tackles 17 times in his career.
Jones is one of only two unanimous First-Team All-Big Ten selections by the media, joining Wisconsin running back John Clay.
The 5-8, 185-pound Swenson ranks first among NCAA FBS active scoring leaders with 370 career points, eight points ahead of Alabama's Leigh Tiffin (362). His 70 career field goals rank second (tied with UCLA's Kai Forbath) among active NCAA FBS kickers, trailing only Tiffin (78 made).
Swenson already ranks as MSU's all-time leader in scoring (370 career points), field goals (70 made) and extra points (160 made) and stands second in field-goal percentage (.787). He also ranks among the Big Ten's all-time leaders in kick scoring (second), field goals (fourth), total points (fifth) and extra points (seventh).
In 2009, Swenson leads the Big Ten in scoring (7.8 points per game), field goals (tied at 1.5 made per game) and field-goal percentage (.900). He leads the team in scoring with 94 points, converting 18-of-20 field-goal attempts and 40-of-41 extra-point tries. Swenson made nine consecutive field goals during one six-game stretch (Sept. 26 Wisconsin-Oct. 31 Minnesota).
Swenson, who connected on all four of his field-goal attempts at Purdue, including a 21-yard game-winner, was selected Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week. It marked the fourth time in his career that Swenson has earned conference weekly honors. In addition to his selection as Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week, he was named National Placekicker of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards and one of the Lou Groza Award's Top Three Stars of the Week.
He matched his career highs with 16 points and four field goals against the Boilermakers. Swenson hit a 28-yard field goal late in the second quarter and a pair of career-long 52-yarders in the third quarter. Keshawn Martin's 85-yard kickoff return to the Purdue 11-yard line set up his game-winning field goal with 1:51 left. It marked Swenson's third career game-winning kick (2006 vs. Northwestern and 2008 vs. Wisconsin).
"Brett Swenson has had a remarkable career here at Michigan State, completely rewriting the record book," Dantonio said. "You begin to appreciate what Brett has done here when you look at the great kickers who preceded him: Morten Andersen, Paul Edinger, John Langeloh and the list goes on and on. He was almost a unanimous selection as our team MVP and that speaks volumes.
"He's made so many clutch kicks throughout his career that I trust him explicitly when the game is on the line. Brett just doesn't rush himself in those situations. He gets himself prepared on the sideline, so he's extremely focused and confident when he comes in to kick. In my opinion, Brett is the finest placekicker in the country because of his accuracy and mental toughness."
The 6-2, 200-pound White leads the Spartans in receptions (64), receiving yards (876) and touchdown catches (8). His eight TD receptions (tied for fourth), 64 catches (tied for sixth) and 876 receiving yards (ninth) rank among the Top 10 single-season totals in Michigan State history. Forty-one of his 64 catches (64 percent) have produced either a first down or a score, including 14 gains of 20 or more yards. He has led the team in receptions in eight of 12 games this season.
White, a second-team all-conference selection by the media, ranks among the Big Ten leaders in TD receptions (first), receiving yards (third at 73.0 per game) and receptions (fourth at 5.3 per game). He also is listed among the NCAA leaders in both receiving yards (No. 39) and receptions (No. 40).
He caught three passes for 95 yards in MSU's 15-13 loss to No. 7 Iowa, including a 27-yard gain on a hook-and-lateral play late in the fourth quarter and a 25-yard TD grab from Kirk Cousins with 1:37 left that gave the Spartans' a 13-9 lead.
White, who set career highs for receptions (12) and receiving yards (186) and matched his career-best with two touchdown receptions in the Spartans' 24-14 Homecoming victory over Northwestern, was selected Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week. In addition, he was named National Wide Receiver of the Week (shared honor with Bowling Green's Freddie Barnes) by the College Football Performance Awards.
His 12 catches (fourth) and 186 receiving yards (10th) rank among the top single-game totals in Spartan history. In addition, his 186 receiving yards are the highest single-game figure in the Big Ten and the 22nd-best single-game total in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision this season. White scored on TD grabs of 22 and 47 yards from Cousins in the third quarter against the Wildcats. It marked White's third 100-yard receiving game of the season and the fifth of his career.
White caught six passes for 75 yards and two scores in MSU's 33-30 loss at Notre Dame. He scored on a 30-yard pass from wide receiver Keshawn Martin in the second quarter and a 17-yard strike from Cousins in the fourth quarter that gave the Spartans a 30-26 lead.
The Saginaw, Mich., native recorded back-to-back 100-yard receiving games against Montana State (nine catches for 162 yards and two TDs) and Central Michigan (seven for 105). White scored on TD grabs of 15 and 24 yards from Cousins in the season opener against the Bobcats, and almost one-third of his receiving yards (51 of 162) came after the catch.
A former walk-on, White has 110 career receptions for 1,560 yards (14.2 avg.) and nine TDs. The Saginaw, Mich., native has caught at least one pass in 23 consecutive games.
"Blair White has had an outstanding senior season, and he's very deserving of this recognition," Dantonio said. "He has been a go-to receiver for us all year long, and he's had a number of huge touchdown receptions. Blair is a sure-handed receiver, who runs disciplined routes, so he breeds confidence in our quarterbacks. He's been a major contributor on offense the last two years because he plays with such consistency. You can count on Blair to show up on game day.
"I don't know that I've ever coached a player who has grown more than Blair has during his career. We've had other walk-on success stories here before like Travis Key, who became a consistent playmaker at safety and was elected team captain by his peers. By being named First-Team All-Big Ten by the coaches, Blair has taken things one step further. Blair has been able to pursue excellence because he has all of the intangibles along with the raw athletic ability. He has provided great leadership for this team both on and off the field. Despite becoming a major playmaker on offense, Blair has never asked to back off of his responsibilities on special teams. He has done a tremendous job here in all aspects - on the field, off the field and in the classroom."
Fifth-year senior center Joel Nitchman has earned All-Big Ten Second Team honors from the coaches. The 6-4, 296-pound Nitchman has started 10 of 12 games in 2009, including nine starts at center and one at left guard. He was sidelined for two early-season games (vs. Central Michigan and Notre Dame) after suffering a knee injury in the season opener against Montana State.
Nitchman anchors an offensive line that helped the Spartans lead the Big Ten in passing offense during the regular season, averaging 271.2 yards per game, while allowing the league's fewest sacks (13). He has graded out as a winner in seven of 10 games while surrendering only one sack in more than 300 passing plays.
The Kalamazoo, Mich., native has started 31 of 34 career games, including 30 starts at the center position.
In addition to Nitchman (media), six other Spartans have received All-Big Ten honorable mention: fifth-year senior defensive end Trevor Anderson (coaches and media), sophomore quarterback Kirk Cousins (media), sophomore offensive guard Joel Foreman (coaches and media), junior tight end Charlie Gantt (media), junior cornerback Chris L. Rucker (coaches and media) and fifth-year senior cornerback Jeremy Ware (coaches).
White also was selected as MSU's recipient of the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award, which is presented to the student-athletes who have distinguished themselves through sportsmanship and ethical behavior.
The 6-6 Spartans, who finished tied for sixth in the Big Ten standings at 4-4, are bowl eligible for the third consecutive year, a first for the program since 1995-97.