Dec. 26, 2010
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ORLANDO, Fla. - Prior to Michigan State's first bowl practice in Orlando on Sunday, the entire Spartan team, along with head coach Mark Dantonio, spent 90 minutes in the morning at DisneyQuest interacting and playing games with more than 250 deserving local children in need as part of the Florida Citrus Sports Foundation's Day for Kids event.
"I thought it was a great experience for our young players and the young people they were able to be with," Dantonio said. "It doesn't take much to put a smile on someone's face and keep it there for a lifetime of memories. I think that's what all of the teams did today. Four teams (Michigan State, Alabama, North Carolina State and West Virginia) were representing their institutions down here, so there were a lot of young people very happy. You saw a lot of our players connecting with them.
"Our players understand that's it a privilege to be here, not a right. In order to get something, you have to give something. That's as important as anything. You give people your time and you pass a little bit of what you know and a little bit of happiness to them, and in turn, you receive it back from them. I think that's a message we ought to send to our players as much as possible. They are bigger than life to so many people, and so many people look up to them."
Senior punter Aaron Bates and sophomore tailback Larry Caper, who also had a chance to speak with the media, echoed Dantonio's feelings toward the event.
"Just the reason we've been blessed with this opportunity to play here is to have that platform to be able to reach out," said Bates. "It's an exciting time and exciting thing to do. The thing is, we really probably get more out of the kids than they get out of hanging with us."
"It's nothing but fun," sophomore tailback Larry Caper said. "Coach D talked about creating moments, and we're creating moments with these kids."
Before taking the field for practice, Dantonio briefly met with reporters to talk about the team's arrival to Orlando and the challenge of facing Alabama.
MSU head coach Mark Dantonio
On what he wants to accomplish during the first bowl practice in Orlando...
First of all today, the main emphasis is just to refocus and get back to what we were working on prior to the break. That will be our focus right now this practice, just get back to practicing tempo and those types of things.
On facing Alabama...
It's a great challenge for us, they're an outstanding football team. Their quarterback (Greg McElroy) completes 70 percent of his passes, they have two great tailbacks, outstanding wide receiver group, big offensive line. Really when you watch them on defense, very impressive - they're coming off on like a sled...They make plays on special teams and they're very well coached. It will be a great challenge for us.
On facing Nick Saban...
Well you know, it's a little bittersweet. It's always great to play in a game like this. I worked for Coach Saban for five years. So you have that relationship that you have to balance and everything. When you get on the field it's Michigan State vs. Alabama, and the players play and the coaches coach. But it will be an exciting opportunity for us.
On talking with Nick Saban at the Day for Kids event at DisneyQuest...
It was good. It's always good to see people that you've worked with, especially when you've worked with somebody for five years and get back together for 20 minutes or so, and just catching up with him and everything. It's always good to see him.
On the weather (temperatures in the 40s, wind chill in the 30s)...
I've got my gloves in my pocket, my hat, we're ready to go...We didn't bring it (the weather from Michigan), but we can certainly be able practice in this. It feels like November (in East Lansing) I guess - late November.
On the team's focus compared to previous bowl practices...
We've had a great football season thus far. We're an 11-1 football team, but we still have things to prove, we're still working for respect out there. As I said earlier, Alabama will be a great challenge for us. And I think when you play with a team like Alabama, you try and measure up, and if you're able to measure up, there's some great things to come out of it. I think our players understand that. Our focus is to win our last football game every year, and this gives us that opportunity. Much like the Penn State game, we had an opportunity in '08 to play for a championship, we have an opportunity to play down here. We have a lot of guys on that team back, and I think they understand the experience from being here last time and playing against Georgia; we should draw from that.