ORLANDO, Fla. â€“ Under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-70s, the Michigan State football team held its third practice in Orlando at Freedom High School late Sunday afternoon. Prior to practice, head coach Mark Dantonio met with reporters to give an update on MSUâ€™s bowl preparation vs. Georgia .
Earlier in the day, Spartan players, along with Georgia , participated in the Day for Kids at Disneyâ€™s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf, interacting with disadvantaged youth from Central Florida .
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio
Well, we have a late afternoon start because we got some things done this morning. Our team went out and played miniature golf with some young people and the University of Georgia football team this morning. Thatâ€™s one of the things that if you go into a playoff system, you lose the opportunity to do those type of things, to interact a little bit more and do things outside the course of a normal game week. Itâ€™s one of the advantages to give back a little bit to the community. That was a positive thing for everybody.
Weâ€™ve had good practices. This is our last practice in full pads. Weâ€™ll go two days in shells and start to tone it down a little so we have our legs for the game, but I like where weâ€™re at. Weâ€™ll just keep pushing. I think we know whatâ€™s going on and thereâ€™s been good recall.
On balancing events and the game during bowl preparationâ€¦
I think it was a good thing to see everyone out there (this morning at the community event). It gave us a chance to see the Georgia players as people rather than just a number on film. I think that was good for our players. And it gave a chance for everyone to get to know someone from the community, which was a good thing for them. They also got a chance to go to Universal Studios yesterday. Â
I hope I do a decent job of balancing â€“ itâ€™s got to be about fun too. Theyâ€™ve earned the opportunity to be down here. I think weâ€™re having a good time. When we come out here (to the practice field), we workâ€¦Weâ€™ve had no problem with team meetings and curfews. As long as we stay the course in those areas, I thing we can get things done.
On seeing Georgia coach Mark Richt at the team eventâ€¦
I had a chance to see him today. Heâ€™s a good man. Everything I hear about him is impressive, but not just as a coach. As a coach, his record speaks for itself. But when you get to know the man and all the things that youâ€™ve heard about him, heâ€™s a strong man of faith and the way he feels about his players, you can really see that come out.
On Blair White and other players that have emerged this seasonâ€¦
We have quite a few players that found their way from being out of the media spotlight to all of a sudden, theyâ€™re in it. Guys like (tight end) Charlie Gantt, guys like (wide receiver) Blair White. (Cornerback) Johnny Adams. I could just go on and on and on. (Safety) Marcus Hyde. So people that have stepped to the front. Certainly Blair White has made his presence known, not just last year at the end of the season, but this year with big catches. I can go back to the Northwestern game, the Michigan game, the Wisconsin game â€“ heâ€™s had big catches throughout. I think we have good balance from our wide receivers right now. Youâ€™ve seen all of them get the ball and do some good things out there.
On having (wide receiver) Keshawn Martin back in the lineup after missing the last two games with an injuryâ€¦
Keshawn Martin has been a big play guy for us. He gets in there as the fourth wide receiver and heâ€™s a true freshman. He has great speed, great jumping ability and great ball awareness. Along with (B.J.) Cunningham, (Mark) Dell, (Deon) Curry and Blair White, it really gives us five guys who can go in and out of there and play well, and who feel comfortable with the ball.
On if the receiving corps is as healthy as itâ€™s been all seasonâ€¦
Thatâ€™s probably pretty fair to say. Because of the injuries, weâ€™ve played other guysâ€¦Blair White is probably the one guy thatâ€™s maintained his level of play throughout. The other four have been in and out. But theyâ€™re all healthy right now.
On Brett Swensonâ€¦
Last year there was a couple of kicks he missed slightly. I think he has great confidence right now, and I think that was formed during the summer. So many times when youâ€™re in a situation where youâ€™re called upon to win a game, which happened last year, where every single point was just crucial for us, I think you take that upon yourself, and itâ€™s a different experience than kicking the ball when youâ€™re up or down by two touchdowns. So we had a lot of close games last year, and I think that experience helped him this year, and heâ€™s come through in the clutch the entire year. Heâ€™s been great.
I think heâ€™s comparable to Paul Edinger. Also Mike Nugent, who was at Ohio State when I was there. Those are two great guys I would compare him with. Aaron Bates (holder) gives him a sense of calmness out there. The two of those guys sort of go hand in hand. Our snapper, Alex Shackleton, has been excellent as well. You can put all of those factors in there. Itâ€™s really not just one guy â€“ the snap has to be on time, the hold has to be perfect, so itâ€™s all three of those guys that have got the job done.
On Javon Ringer and if the rest has helped him and his burstâ€¦
I think so. He was a little wore down at the tail end of the season, probably because he went through a virus and he lost about 15 pounds (week of Wisconsin game on Nov. 1). So he was a little bit weak at that point. Â I think heâ€™s come back. Heâ€™s back to his normal playing weight and he has his burst back.
On the legacy of the senior classâ€¦
I think that the legacy of this senior class is that when we came to close games, they won them. We didnâ€™t the year before, we got to a bowl game and we raised expectations and gained back some respect, but with this yearâ€™s seniors, weâ€™ve been able to win the close football games. If you look at the Iowa game and you look at the Wisconsin game, we found a way, and thatâ€™s the difference of being 7-5 and 9-3. Â
NEWS AND NOTES: Several players from the team went to Islands of Adventure Theme Park at Universal Studios after Saturdayâ€™s practiceâ€¦following Sundayâ€™s practice, the entire team participated in a Best Buy Shopping Spree as part of their bowl gift from Florida Citrus Sports. Players were turned loose with a $400 gift card to be spent at a local Best Buy, and Best Buy will ship the playersâ€™ gifts home at no extra cost.Â
FROM DEC. 27Â
ORLANDO, Fla. â€“ The Michigan State football team held its second bowl practice in Orlando at Freedom High School Saturday afternoon amid sunny skies and temperatures near 80 degrees. Prior to practice, MSU head coach Mark Dantonio met with the media to talk about his revised contract that was announced Friday and how the team is progressing in preparation for the 2009 Capital One Bowl vs. Georgia .Â On his revised contractâ€¦Iâ€™m very pleased with everything in regards to that (contract). It shows thereâ€™s stability in this program. I donâ€™t think we need to talk about â€˜if the coach leaves.â€™ Itâ€™s secure that Iâ€™ll be here for a time set. It shows a commitment by the university and a commitment by the head coach. I think good things follow from there, because continuity in anything you do brings success. Iâ€™m very humbled by it.Â On when the contract extension talks beganâ€¦Toward the end of the season. It was talked about really after the last game.Â On the recruiting impactâ€¦We were asked by some recruits, not just this year, but the longevity of being at Michigan State . Because when a recruits comes, he wants to know the coach is going to be in place the next four or five years. I think that question has been answered. Thatâ€™s the positive. Iâ€™ll always be able to sit there and tell a young man that Iâ€™ll be there through his five years.Â On the compensation for the assistant coachesâ€¦That was critical, as much as anything. We want our staff to be here as well in terms of stability. Certainly there are guys that will have opportunities beyond here whether itâ€™s a head coach or becoming a coordinator someplace, but it shows thereâ€™s a commitment there as well, not only by myself but from our administration as well. Thatâ€™s one of the reasons weâ€™ve had the amount of success weâ€™ve had in the last two years. We bring a system, we bring a way of doing things, and we bring continuity in terms of knowing each other.Â On why Michigan State is a precise fit for him over the next few yearsâ€¦First of all, itâ€™s important sometimes to coach where youâ€™re from. I consider myself from Michigan State because I had been here for six years, so you know the landscape a little bit. Itâ€™s not all about just one person trying to get the job done, thereâ€™s got to be people in place to help you do your job, and help you stay unified when things start to unravel. The main thing here coming back was that there was a commitment from the Board of Trustees to the administration to the athletics director to the admissions director to the basketball coach. The fact that I knew they all had integrity makes this a great situation. You can talk about all the great traditions here and to try and repeat those traditions. Those are the things we talked about when me and my family first came back for this job. Those are the things that brought us back, that sense of community.Â Â On announcing the contract in Orlando â€¦I think that was the thought process in terms of when things were finalized and when I actually signed things, and coming down here. We had dinner last night and we wanted to make it known to our staff first before we announced it publicly, and really, not only to our coaching staff, but before the administration and everyone with the team.Â On helping recruitingâ€¦I hope so. People are going to come because of relationships, but knowing that youâ€™re going to have a staff in place might help establish those relationships quicker. Itâ€™s going to be about facilities, relationships, success, and really, our playersâ€™ interaction with those young people. It sends a message that thereâ€™s going to be one person in place here, and thatâ€™s a positive.Â On practice thus farâ€¦Well, we had the one practice yesterday. It was hot out here, a record high I guess, and it was humid. But it was good to be out here practicing. It was long and we made it as difficult as we could, but I think we got everything we could out of our guys. We need to get back into football shape too. Weâ€™re five days out but weâ€™ll recover quickly. We need to get our legs back and ready to play. From a mental standpoint, I think we were very, very good yesterday. From a physical standpoint, it was our first day back, so we have to carry our pads a little bit again.Â On the difference between the preparation last year vs. this yearâ€¦Not really, I donâ€™t sense a difference. I think our seniors have done a great job in terms of leading our football team. Last year, I think our seniors did an outstanding job with that. We have to continue in that mode. But thereâ€™s a sense of urgency.Â On practicing in Florida â€¦I think it does feel a little bit more real to them. Weâ€™re here, and weâ€™re playing on January 1. Thatâ€™s something thatâ€™s been a goal of ours from day one. It feels real good to be here.Â On comparing this game to the 2000 Florida Citrus Bowl against Florida â€¦We were a 9-2 team coming into that game. We came down here for a longer period â€“ 10 days I believe. We had some two-a-days and got acclimated a little bit more, but we didnâ€™t spend Christmas at home either, so thereâ€™s a little bit of a trade-off there in terms of attitude, I think. Weâ€™ve worked extremely hard up in East Lansing , with the heat up to 75 and 80 degrees in the indoor, and know weâ€™re down here for real. The thing I like about our football team is that we have enough depth at the skill positions that we can stay fresh.Â On quarterback Brian Hoyerâ€¦I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s any substitute for experience. Hopefully when weâ€™re 9-2 next time and playing for a Big Ten Championship, weâ€™ll play better because weâ€™ve done it once. Brian has the opportunity to start in his second straight bowl game at quarterback and to play better. I expect Brian to play the game of his life. I think thatâ€™s where his mindset is and heâ€™ll play very, very well.Â On walking with the ducks at the Peabody Orlando earlier on Friday, prior to the announcementâ€¦Yeah, I also got to walk with the ducks. I was a duck master â€“ duck master Mark. (laughter) It was a good experience since Iâ€™ve never done that before. I had my photographer there, and my youngest daughter was with me, so we can make a documentary. (more laughter)Â
Capital One Bowl: Practice Report No. 2