Spartan Special Teams Set to Finally Be Special…

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Spartan Special Teams Set to Finally Be Special…

If this group of people do their job, most will never notice. That is sad, but for very special special teamers it is a reality.

If one were to look back at the history of the Spartan football, they would see a long lineage of tremendous kickers and punters. There have been many good ones, but with the dawn of the 2009 season, there has never been any better group of specialists than what presently is on campus.

Aaron Bates

Aaron Bates and Brett Swenson Combine for a Great Win over Wisconsin in 2008!  Photo Courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

Aaron Bates and Brett Swenson Combine for a Great Win over Wisconsin in 2008! Photo Courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

Bates is the best punter in the Big Ten and there are some good ones. He brings to the game a leg that carries very good hang time, great intelligence and pinpoint accuracy. On at least three occasions last year Bates not only avoided a punt getting blocked, but also was still able to get away a bomb with a sarcastic sense of “how could you even think you would get away with it?” Bates has the leg that can allow Coach Dantonio and Offensive Coordinator Don Treadwell not to have to take risks when backed up against their own goal line because he has the ability to boom away a punt that can take the Spartans from being backed up, to backing up their opponent.

Bates is mild mannered and has no pretense of arrogance, he doesn’t have to, his foot speaks for him. He is multi-talented and with him being the keeper of what Coach Dantonio calls the most important play in football, the Spartans are set with him as the cornerstone of this group.

Brett Swenson

Swenson enters his final campaign as a national finalist for the best kicker in college football and certainly that isn’t a mistake. He has nerves of steel and with a sure foot, he allows the staff to almost certainly count on at least three points when they get a drive that takes them inside the opponents 35, and when the game is on the line, change Swenson’s name to MONEY.

Swenson is more outspoken than Bates, but again not cocky. He is his own worst critic and this workaholic has tough expectations on himself. That drive is what sets college kickers and punters aside. He is a beast in the weight room and is admired by his teammates as a true all around football player.

I fully expect Swenson to be one of the offensive MVPs in 2009 and this Spartan is on the fast track to the top of the entire major place kicking records at MSU.

Dan Conroy

Dan Conroy has the leg and the work ethic to kick at MSU!

Dan Conroy has the leg and the work ethic to kick at MSU!

This walk on youngster from Illinois has been highly talked about at Spartan Nation. He spurned scholarship offers at some great schools to walk on at MSU. With the loss of Boleski as last year’s kickoff specialist, Conroy has been on a tear trying to earn the job.

Although Swenson has the ability, Coach Dantonio told Spartan Nation that ideally he would rather have another person do that chore. Conroy’s blue-collar work ethic has made it known that he wants the job.

Conroy’s boyish appearance and bashful personality make people who meet him root for the kid next door. He is hard to talk to not because of arrogance, but because like Swenson and Bates he is always kicking and perfecting his craft. It is not decided if or how many kicks he will get on Satuday, but the fact that Conroy is in the conversation for kickoff duties is a testament to his talent, work ethic, and character.

Alex Shackleton---snapper

"Shack" may not get a lot of media attention, but other teams know he is one of the nation's best.  Photo courtesy of MSU SID.

"Shack" may not get a lot of media attention, but other teams know he is one of the nation's best. Photo courtesy of MSU SID.

Shackleton is only a junior, a fact that can’t please opposing Big Ten teams and is unheralded only because of the position he plays and certainly not because of his talent. By the end of last year he was clearly among the best in the nation and is as sure as night and day. He delivers a great ball with excellent speed and his improvement gets better with each and every play.

Certainly Bates and Swenson are top-flight talents, but they couldn’t do what they do and how they do it without the skills of Shackleton.

The 2009 season will certainly have its ups and downs, all of them do. We can be sure of this; no team can have any success with a sub-par special teams grouping led by the specialists. If you have to predict the success of the 2009 Spartan Football season only by the specialists, then get ready for Pasadena. You can look from Minneapolis and Happy Valley and not find any better group. What makes it more special to me is that as good as they are on the field, this entire group are top-flight young people; winners off the field, who clearly are winners on!