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Michigan State's Jalen Berger gets fresh start after dismissal from Wisconsin

The new Spartan is anxious to return to the playing field...

Michigan State brought in a pair of transfer running backs this offseason, including one from a Big Ten rival. Former Wisconsin tailback Jalen Berger has been in East Lansing since spring, and appears to be emerging as a potential starter at the position for the Spartans.

While head coach Mel Tucker has brought several transfers to Michigan State over the last couple offseasons, Berger’s addition was something of a unique case.

The redshirt sophomore was dismissed from the Badgers’ football program in the midst of the 2021 season, which ultimately landed him in the transfer portal.

Very few details emerged from Berger’s dismissal from Wisconsin, as the Badger program chose to deal with the matter internally, though most news outlets pointed to Berger’s lack of playing time as a major contributor.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that several UW players were surprised by Berger’s dismissal, including junior tailback Chez Mellusi, who transfered in from Clemson before supplanting Berger as the Badgers’ starting tailback.

“It was difficult for me because he’s my friend, we’re brothers,” Mellusi told the State Journal. “It was just one of those things where I’m going to continue to support him.”

As far as a reason for Berger’s dismissal, the State Journal reported the following:

Sources told the State Journal that Berger didn’t react well to the Badgers bringing in Mellusi in the transfer market, and it was a starting point of Berger’s unhappiness and defiance of team rules despite being friends and roommates with Mellusi.

Berger missed meetings and workouts, according to two sources who wished to remain anonymous because they weren’t permitted to speak publicly about Berger’s dismissal.

The State Journal also reported that Wisconsin senior safety Collin Wilder believed what happened with Berger reflected UW’s mindset after a 2-3 start to the 2021 season.

“We handle all this stuff as a team,” Wilder told the State Journal at the time. “Especially with the way that our start has been this season, it hasn’t been ideal for us, and if you’re not all-in, then just get out. That’s the mentality. And clearly you can see it’s being put into action and I think that’s good for our team.

“I think it’s good to have guys who want to be here. At this point, we just focus on the guys who want to be here and want to make an impact for the rest of the season.”

Nearly a year later, Berger is focused on re-starting his career at Michigan State, stating that what happened in Madison no longer matters.

“I never got a chance to really explain what happened,” Berger said. “Coach [Paul] Chryst didn’t really say anything much, so everybody has their own suggestion of what happened. But, it’s all in the past now. I’m a Spartan now, so it doesn’t really matter anymore.”

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Michigan State’s Director of Player Personnel and Recruiting, Saeed Khalif, was at Wisconsin when Berger was being recruiting by and ultimately chose to sign with the Badgers. As the Spartans began to recruit Berger out of the portal, Berger said that Khalif reached out to Wisconsin’s coaching staff for more details on the tailback’s dismissal.

“Saeed kind of figured out what was going on,” Berger said. “He talked to a couple people over there on the staff, and that’s [helped me] end up here.”

Berger admitted that his dismissal from Wisconsin affected his work ethic in the time immediately following the incident, but said that he’s been back to business as usual since arriving at Michigan State.

“When I first arrived, I really wasn’t in shape as much, due to my season being cut short there in Wisconsin,” Berger said. “I wasn’t working out as much. But, when I got here they made sure I got back in shape.”

Where is Berger’s level of motivation now?

“To the roof,” the redshirt sophomore said. “I just can’t want to get back out on that field. I really miss it.”

Michigan State is set to host Wisconsin on Oct. 15, which has not gone unnoticed by the Spartans’ new transfer tailback.

“Yeah, I looked at it,” Berger said with a big smile. “I’m not going to keep it on my head throughout the whole season. When the game comes, it comes. But I’m just focused on the first game.”

There were a variety of reasons why Berger chose to come to Michigan State, including his relationship with Khalif, seeing the success that Kenneth Walker III had with the Spartans in 2021 and the variety of ways that MSU likes to utilize its tailbacks.

Berger said he’s pleased with the transfer decision that he made.

“Most definitely,” Berger said. “Just as a culture standpoint and I just feel the tension in the room, the motivation. I feel like they want to win here.”

The Spartans enter the 2022 season with a plethora of running backs with game experience including Berger, Colorado transfer Jarek Broussard, fifth-year seniors Elijah Collins and Harold Joiner, and junior Jordon Simmons.

Tucker also noted during spring practice and fall camp that redshirt freshman Davion Primm had turned some heads at tailback. How Michigan State manages this stable of running backs will be something to keep an eye on this season.