MSU Football Coach Mark Dantonio Looks to Players That Shunned the NFL Draft To Lead Spartans to New Heights
It is not a secret that Connor Cook and Shilique Calhoun were major reasons for the Spartans success the last two years. While experts agree that neither was a first round pick had they come out early for this yearâ€™s NFL draft, in todayâ€™s age of football and the amount of money a second round pick gets, it often happens.
Mark Dantonio knows how big it is to have high recognition playerâ€™s return. â€œWe have a senior class that probably has as much experience as we're we've had since we've been here. And I think there are some very, very good football players there, just the offensive line, Clark and Jack. I think he's got a year, but we've got experienced guys up it there. But I think they have to lead. And that's the important thing. Just because you're becoming a senior doesn't mean you're necessarily going to lead. You have to be forced into those positions, and that sort of just turns. These guys are sophomores when we won the Rose Bowl. And now they have to assume a leadership position. I think its natural progression, but they have to work on it.â€
One player not getting as much love from the nation, but who is from the NFL scouts is LT Jack Conklin. Most draft experts felt like Conklin would have been a first rounder this year had he come out, and most think he could play himself next year into the top five.
I asked Dantonio about his hidden star who might have been the most important player to return. â€œHe's a great person. He's a very strong leader, and I think he's assuming that leadership role. He still has another year after this. That's the beautiful thing about it. So obviously had a left tackle back who is projected all Big 10 player, All American type guy, gives you a big upside. But I think just as important is a guy that will work, he goes about things academically, socially, everything he does, he does pretty well in terms of the right type of person. So having a guy back like that shoots for us and demonstrates to other people that you can get it all. You don't just have to be a football player, you can have it all here.â€
When player return it is for one of two reasons or both. Those reasons are to win a championship and/or to improve their draft stock. Cook, Conklin and Calhoun have all talked about winning a title. Is that the clear goal then for the Spartans in 2015 being that three key players returned?
Dantonio said about a title only mentality, â€œI think you go with things in progression, you always have to take your goals and you're building your goals as you go. And then you reevaluate your goals if you don't reach that.
After the Ohio State game this past year, we needed to see what that did for us. But we didn't win a championship. So the first goal has to be to win, which is as tough this side of the conference is as tough as there is in college football. But a lot of good teams, a lot of very good coached football teams.
But you leap frog from there to the next step to the next step. And I think it's possible with what we've accomplished, we've got a name for ourselves a little bit. We've got some rankings, and I think you need those things to be able to put yourself over the edge. We're up there now so we've got a little bit of a podium, I guess I'd say, if that's the right word. You've got a little bit of a recognition, so what are you going to do with that? So I just feel that our football team, you're always trying to reach farther, reach higher, and we've got to reach a little further and you're in a playoff game. And that would be the goal to get in the playoff game. But to do that you have to go through the progression.â€
The Spartans have a lot of answers. They also have a lot of questions. When big time players say no to the millions that the NFL holds in their hands beckoning them like the pied piper it speaks. The Spartans BIG THREE didnâ€™t listen and this spring they are laying a foundation for more.
So will the Spartans come into 2015 on an upswing? Will they feel entitled because of their past success and the decision of their three future NFL stars or will they be hungry. Dantonio thinks you only need look at how they came off the 13-1 Rose Bowl year to see that. They only lost two games last year and both of those losses came against teams playing for the national title.
The Spartans head man is not concerned. â€œAfter we're 13 1 we tried to refocus ourselves, we lost two games. We could have done better, but we lost two games. So I don't think that we went into the season expecting and taking it for granted that we were just going to throw our helmet out there. So I think you sort of sit there and teeter one way or another. You want to be confident you about you can't be so confident that you take things for granted and I think that's where we're at. We believe in hard work here, we're going to work extremely hard. We're playing with great effort and understanding what we're doing and having knowledge about what we do. And that's brought us positives. There's still some negatives out there. There's going to be negatives around every program that's out there. I don't know if I'm answering the question, but I'm trying.â€
Taking the next step will be difficult to do for MSU. Not impossible and you never bet against Mark Dantonio. Especially when his three best players have bought in like they have and returned hungry for more wins.