Nov. 29, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
EAST LANSING, Mich. - No student-athlete in Michigan State history has been part of the football program as long as Tyler Hoover.
No one has more threads woven into the fabric of Spartan athletics than middle linebacker Max Bullough's family.
Who better, therefore, to provide an appraisal of how the program has evolved than Hoover, Treadwell and Bullough in exit interviews conducted prior to their final game in Spartan Stadium?
Hoover, a sixth-year senior defensive tackle, joined the team as early enrollee just days after Dantonio's first season came to an end in the 2007 Champs Sports Bowl. Hoover participated in winter conditioning and spring practice, putting his start date months ahead of MSU's previous sixth-year players, such as running back Duane Goulbourne (1991-96).
Injury-shortened seasons in '08 and '11 allowed Hoover to successfully petition the NCAA for an additional medical redshirt. He's also the oldest of the 18 seniors who'll be playing their final home game on Saturday against Minnesota.
Hoover, who turns 24 on Jan. 28 and is three classes away from achieving a master's degree in advertising, relates pretty well with the youngsters on the team, except in one respect.
"The only thing I've not understood is the abbreviations of some of the text messages and Tweets," he said. "HMU? - I have no idea."
Hoover may be out of touch when it comes to the acronym for "hit me up," but he has a thorough understanding of why, since his arrival, Michigan State: Won a share of the Big Ten Championship in '10, has just captured its second Legends Division Championship, is headed to its second conference title game in Indianapolis and is still in the hunt for its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1988.
"I can tell you Coach D, and every single coach, has stayed so consistent on who they wanted to be, and what kind of (players) they wanted to raise and see mature here," Hoover said. "And then, the growth of it is watching the new recruits, each and every year. They come in a little more mature, already with a little more character and you can tell they're making it easier to mold better people.
"I'm talking about people that are alike, people that have chips on their shoulders, who want to work hard and compete for something bigger than themselves."
The hallmark of Dantonio's teams has been an uncanny ability to get up for virtually every game, even those coming after huge wins or devastating losses when letdowns often seem to be inevitable. Hoover doesn't see that changing against the Golden Gophers, especially since the Spartans can enhance their national profile and BCS standing with a win.
"It really starts in winter conditioning, when you get used to getting beat up and pushed to your limit every single day," he said. "Then, you should hear just how positive these coaches are. They're never attacking us as people, they're never dealing with us in any kind of wrong way. They're always going to have our backs while showing us our mistakes, and we're going to learn from them.
"That's really what it comes down too."
The players have bought into the concept that every single game presents an opportunity to win, regardless of what's riding on it.
"From the outside, it really can seem that some games are irrelevant," Hoover said. "But if you hear the talk in the locker room and the talk of our coaches, when we played Northwestern last week, it truly was our biggest game.
"We play to hit people and prove to the world we can compete at the highest level. I truly can tell you I've enjoyed every minute. So many players have been through here, and they've all changed me and made me a better person. I'm so thankful just to be a part of everything."
Treadwell's father, Don, broke into the collegiate coaching ranks in 1986 at Youngstown State, where Dantonio was the defensive coordinator. They became close friends and four years later the Treadwells asked Dantonio to be Blake's godfather.
"I remember when he was born, I remember the christening, I remember when they came and visited us when I was coaching at the University of Kansas," Dantonio said. "(Blake) had a baby bottle in his mouth as I was showing Tread around the campus."
Don and Dantonio were assistants at MSU in 2000, and he worked as Dantonio's offensive coordinator at Cincinnati ('04-06) and Michigan State ('07-10). Don, the former head coach at Miami of Ohio, will be in the stands to watch his son put some finishing touches on his Spartan career.
Treadwell's journey began as a defensive tackle out of nearby East Lansing High School and has included numerous twists and turns, including nine appearances as a true freshman in '09. He switched to offense in '11 and started the first three games at center before injuring his knee against Notre Dame and redshirting as a junior. He found a home at left guard in '12, was elected co-captain prior to this season and is having what offensive line coach Mark Staten has described as an All-Big-Ten-caliber year.
To say Treadwell knows the Dantonio program inside and out would be an understatement.
"I've been through the full circle," Treadwell said. "In my opinion, I've been through almost every scenario of the ups, downs, losses, being a part-time contributor and a guy that didn't get in the game at all, and I think that's really helped me this year to really enjoy having such a big role on the football team.
"When I was going through my downs here at Michigan State, I knew Coach Dantonio had my best interests. I knew I could trust in him and that I could lean on him and if I have a problem, he'll help me through it."
The winningest senior class in school history is going for its 40th victory after bouncing back from a 7-6 setback last season, and every experience of every player has made it possible.
"People remember some names and whatnot, but really what they remember is what you did your senior year," Treadwell said. "Us seniors, we still have more to accomplish, but what we have done is quite the turnaround from last year."
Treadwell believes he's leaving behind a team that has characteristics in common with programs that win on a consistent basis, which wasn't the case before Dantonio arrived.
"I remember when I was being recruited and met with Coach D during my official visit," Treadwell said. "He said, the wheel's turning and by your sophomore years, things are going to start turning for Michigan State. As you can see, he was true to his word.
"Compared to previous years, the depth has been amazing. There's not much of a difference between first and second string now, compared to what it might have been in the past, especially in the offensive line. It's unbelievable with the guys coming in and out. So I would say the depth and the player-developmentÂÂ?c, the fundamentals he's kept year-after-year has really started to work for us."
Bullough's grandfather, Henry, represents a symbolic bridge back to Michigan State's glory years. He played for legendary coach "Biggie" Munn from 1951-54 and began his esteemed coaching career under the beloved Duffy Daugherty, who took over the program in '55. His father, Shane, led the Spartans in tackles from his middle linebacker spot in '85-86 and his uncle Chuck has held the single-season record for tackles, with 175, since '91.
In three games, Bullough will pass the family baton off to younger brother Riley, a red-shirt freshman running back who likely will return to the linebacking corps next season. First, he wants to finish what he started.
"We call it, `Working on next,'" Bullough said. "I just always think, on to the next thing. Obviously, once it's all over, I'll look back and say, holy cow, that went by pretty fast. But, right now I can't help but be in the moment because this should be one of the best times of my life right now.
"The Rose Bowl is just that next step."
With 287 career tackles, Bullough's name appears with his father and uncle on the Spartans' all-time Top-20 list, but his legacy, that of his family's and that of Michigan State's are one and the same.
"It's easier to maintain when you go to a place that's been winning for awhile, and it's hard to come in and uproot the system and start over again," Bullough said. "It's a credit to the guys Coach D has brought in here and the way these seniors have pulled together to have done that.
"When I was a kid, I just wanted Michigan State to be good, and people to talk about them in a positive way and respect them, and I think we've made progress toward that. We've moved this program forward to where people are talking about Michigan State."