Competition makes a Program Grow Stronger

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Competition makes a Program Grow Stronger

When people talk about college football, they talk about the passion and the pageantry of the game. They talk about the ferocity and determination that makes the game of football what it is. They talk about competition.

Without competition, we would not know modern day sports like we do now. Without competition, we wouldn’t have sports in general. There would be no reason to get together with your best buddies to talk smack when your team scores or makes a big play. This is what drives the game. Competition isn’t just about winning; it’s about pride and respect. With competition comes motivation and a sense of responsibility to fans, coaches, and teammates that you go to battle with week in and week out.

Competition doesn’t just happen on Saturdays, though, for the student-athletes at Michigan State; it happens every day. Players are expected to come into every event that pertains to the game of football and compete against others that are vying for the same spots. Whether it is at practice, in the classroom, or in the weight room, everyone is expected to give 110% on and off the field. The fierce battles that we see in the news don’t come from just the coaches encouraging the players, they come from a culture that is being created and the caliber of player that is now being recruited and brought into the University.

Cousins and Nichol are the epitome of what depth and competition on the Spartan roster now.  Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.
Cousins and Nichol are the epitome of what depth and competition on the Spartan roster now. Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

The current quarterback battle between Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol is a perfect example of the difference between what we have come to expect under a Mark Dantonio led team and what previous regimes might have produced. In years prior, whether it was Bill Burke, Jeff Smoker, Drew Stanton, or Brian Hoyer, our starting quarterbacks, for the most part, were solid. The most glaring issue, though, was that we had no one to step up if one of those guys went down. When our starter at QB went down, our season was doomed. There were guys who were expected to be viable options should our number one go down, but they never seemed to mature into what they should have.

This is where the team is changing and evolving into something special. The quarterback battle might have been finished already in years past, and we wouldn’t be clamoring for an announcement of who the starting quarterback will be to start the season.  This year, nothing is certain. Both quarterbacks are primetime players and looking to do big things for the University they devote their blood, sweat, and tears to.

Kirk Cousins came in as a virtual nobody. He was not a highly touted or nationally recruited kid coming out of high school, but Dantonio and the staff at MSU saw something special in this kid out of Holland Christian – and they were right. Cousins is a class act on and off the field and is one of the most accurate passers to grace the green and white. He saw limited but meaningful action last year as Brian Hoyer’s understudy, and in those few opportunities he completed 74% of his passes.

The other quarterback in this race, Keith Nichol, decided to head west to Oklahoma out of high school. At Oklahoma, Nichol competed with future Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford for the starting job as a freshman, but was barely edged out by the up and coming college football star. Nichol decided to head back to his home state and join the green and white after his freshman season. Now he see’s himself in another tight race at the quarterback position in East Lansing.

This quarterback battle could not go on between two guys more classy and talented that Nichol and Cousins; but this is a competition and only one can win in the end. This is what makes Michigan State stronger. Without this entertaining competition we have watched since day one of practice, we might be in the same position as previous years, asking ourselves “if our number one goes down, what happens?” The competition at this position and many others has made our program a united and powerful entity.

One of the most talented Linebackers in the Big Ten, Adam Decker, is fighting tooth and nail to play in his senior season. Decker made one of the most heroic and biggest plays of the 2008 season. On a fourth and inches in a game that could have made or broke the season for MSU, Decker stepped up and stopped Shonn Greene of Iowa for a loss with just minutes left in the game to seal the win for MSU. This isn’t last year though, and with players like Chris Norman, Tyquan Hammock, and Jeremy Gainer coming into the program this year, we could see 3-4 waves of linebackers every game. Decker may be forced to make his biggest stamp on the team on Special Teams, and that’s not any fault of Decker’s; it’s a tribute to the talent and competition that we are seeing at MSU.

Could you imagine a four tight end set this year on offense? We could see it, because the talent and depth at the position is beyond belief. Brian Linthicum was a clear-cut number one at Clemson before transferring to MSU, where he’s one of four. Charlie Gantt, one of MSU’s most reliable weapons for Brian Hoyer last year, is having a hard time separating from the pack due to the talent that he has seen grow around him. Dion Sims, a freak when it comes to measurements and instincts, could and most likely will see playing time as a freshman. And I didn’t even hit on hard working Garrett Celek who is also vying for playing time.

We have players that will be sitting on the bench against Montana State to start the season who could start for almost every Big Ten School. This is because of, again, the competition for playing time and the talent level that MSU is seeing. Can you imagine being a tired lineman in the fourth quarter and seeing a fresh Chris Norman or Greg Jones breathing down your throat because they have had rest? I know I would not want to be that poor fellow.

Competition is what makes a team great and defines the character of a program. Without it, the team falters when one of its key components goes down. With it, the team continues firing on all cylinders and doesn’t skip a beat. This is what we as fans can expect under a Dantonio led program, and because of it, our team will be better and stronger. Our team will compete and be amongst the elite programs in the nation, and we won't just be thinking Big Ten championships, we'll be thinking National Championships. As a fan, it is exciting and uplifting to see our beloved Spartans and National Championship mentioned in the same sentence again, and it's not too hard to believe those same sentiments will be spreading throughout the country sometime soon. All of it though, resorts back to the one thing that Dantonio ingrained into every player when he took over the program: You will give it your all, you will fight, and nothing will be handed to you. Competition became the rule.

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