Spring Football Sets in Motion What Could be a Magical 2012 for Spartan Football

Hondo S. Carpenter

Mark Dantonio Enters Spring Happy as Can Be!

With spring football underway for the Michigan State Spartans, it is impossible to look back at what Mark Dantonio inherited and see how far he truly has brought the program. When he arrived scholarship players were low and talent was nowhere near the level it rests now.

Certainly not all, but a majority of players recruited in just his first class wouldn’t even get offers today. That is an amazing fact. He has done a super job, but don’t tell him that.

Dantonio said this week, “Really what we've got to do is try to build on what we've accomplished thus far, and I don't think that ever stops. I think you have a vision for where you want to go, a vision for the future, and you're trying to get there. Really, you continue to build. That's what we'll always do here.”

Dantonio doesn’t have an arrogant bone in his body. It isn’t the man he is or how he leads. That is why when he said this it was saying a lot, “I think we've laid a great foundation. We've won more maybe in the past couple years than maybe ever before. But with that being said, we're still not to where we need to go and we still have different things we need to be challenged with.”

I mentioned last year (and took a lot of criticism for it) prior to the season that, “There will be young men that don’t get on the field this year that will one day play in the NFL. That tells you how far Spartan football has come.” It is even more true in 2012.

Dantonio is no fan of recruiting rankings and took a veiled shot at the when asked about the depth and talent on his roster. He mentioned people who, “Want to look at recruiting and say we've got the number one class, the number ten class, whatever it is. The bottom line is how many games you win at the end of the season. That is the bottom line. The second bottom line is how many guys you have returning. How many players do you have coming back?” In both bottom line scenarios the Spartans are sitting pretty.

Dantonio has to sit in his top floor corner office with a smile for where his program sits. Sure there will be new players, but with so many experienced people back he is in good shape. It is great to have players back, but to have them with the talent level that he does makes the future bright. Dantonio addressed the talent he has moving up by saying, â��œThat's the exciting part of football. It makes football a great sport. You have all these positions that have to marry up and become one at the end of the day. At the end of the day it's how we play with energy. We have to focus on that in every aspect I can, and talk about how we're going to play as a team and a program, because that's a day‑to‑day thing. You have to be up every single day. You can't afford a day where you're just going through the motions and being complacent, because if you are, somebody's catching you, no question.”

The biggest concern on this team is not talent. They have an amazing amount of that. The biggest issue will be leadership. Who will step up? How will they step up? Dantonio agreed that it is an area of concern and addressed leadership by saying, “I think when you ask our football players, and I'll do it again today, if you've been a captain on your high school football team, stand up. We probably have 80 to 85% of our guys that stand up. There is no lack of leadership. But when a group of people come together, somebody's going to assume that position of leadership, and that's ongoing.

We have our counsel that we elect periodically. Maxwell, and Chris Norman, and Max Bullough are guys that over and above seem to get the most votes in terms of leaders. I would think those are guys that people are looking to right now. But you also have people that are so‑called bell cows within their position. Who are the leaders within your position group? They sort of carry that group.

So those are things. The leadership aspect are things that people work on daily whether you're at Michigan State or somewhere else. You're always looking for who are going to be those leaders for you, and who is going to be those guys that you look to in crunch time. But those things naturally tend to happen. We'll push it a little as coaches, but I think the players have to take ownership, and we'll go as far as they want to go.

It's easy to stick your hand in there and say Big Ten Championship or National Championship or whatever you're going to say as a callout, but it becomes a little bit more real when you step back and have to make decisions and have to push people in different directions as a player.”

Dantonio knows what he wants. He has his road map to what could be a magical 2012 season. Legends division repeat champions? A for sure goal. A B1G title? Without a doubt on the agenda. Rose Bowl and BCS game? That is what they are thinking. This team has high and lofty goals and the players and staff to do it.

So what are the goals and agenda of this spring?  Dantonio said, “Our goals will always be to teach fundamentals in the spring and teach situations as well, so not just do we want to get fundamentally better, but better at handling the different situations that you have to handle in a football season.

We want to try to get 3% better every practice. That's something my head coach, my position coach really talked about in spring practice going way back in the 1970s. I think I still try to hold that to be true. So you're going to remain 97% of what you do will remain the same. If you can just change that 3% every day, you're going to become a more effective football player in the end. So that's what we're trying to do.

Develop new concepts, new ideas, new position changes and experiment with those different things. We also need to stay healthy, but guard against complacency, I would say. Regardless of where you're at, if you're the head coach here, position coach, position player, you need to look forward to the next thing and really guard in terms of being complacent in everything that we do.

We want to build for a championship and continue to develop confidence, develop experience, teach our young players, which is so critical at this time. We've got a lot of players who are red shirt freshmen. Should be tremendous players.

Really the last thing, and I would say probably the most important thing of all is we need to earn our jerseys, whether you're a coach here, whether you're some part of our staff. I don't care what element that is whether you're a manager, trainer, whatever it is. Whether you're the quarterback or tailback, every day you go out there you need to earn what you get. You need to earn the jersey that you're wearing and make a big deal about that as we move forward.”

This will be the first season since 1966 that coming in Spartan fans can’t look at the schedule and say, “that game is a for sure loss.” It will be a tough and trying schedule, but this season is shaping up with magical implications. This was why Dantonio came here and even though the nation as a whole may be shocked, Dantonio isn’t.

It was all part of a plan. Let spring commence!

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