Michigan State’s defense prides themselves in swarming to the ball, playing at 110 mph, having a swagger about themselves, and, as junior defensive end William Gholston put it, “goin’ out there and hittin’ somebody in the mouth, just goin out there and playing smash mouth defense.”
Gholston and the Spartan defense call themselves “Spartandawgs,” a term that has been used a lot this past year. The men’s basketball team uses it too, as well as many students on campus, to describe themselves. Where did this term come from and what does it actually mean?
Well, it turns out, the term began way back when Harlon Barnett, now the defensive backs coach, played at Michigan State from 1986-89.
“A lot of us, back in those times, nobody was part of a fraternity,” Barnett said at the Michigan State football media day at Spartan Stadium on Monday, Aug. 6. “Our fraternity was the Spartandawgs. That’s what we’ve been and we’ve got each other’s back. We gonna play hard, we gonna do what’s necessary, we gonna be tough, smart, physical.”
The “Spartandawgs” combined for 45 sacks, 18 interceptions, and 13 forced fumbles during last year’s Legends Division championship season. We saw the Spartandawgs come to life when they recorded nine sacks against Ohio State, and seven sacks against Michigan in 2011.
As Gholston puts it, there isn’t just one guy out there doing the work. “Everybody’s gotta eat!”
Michigan State returns eight starters from last year’s demoralizing defense. Better yet, they return 18 of the top 22.
Junior strong safety Isaiah Lewis, a second team All-Big Ten selection in 2011, will be looked upon as a leader this year in the back of the defense.
“When you think of Spartandawgs, you think of savages, wreckin’ stuff, messin’ things up,” Lewis said. “That defines our whole team.”
Johnny Adams, a senior cornerback who is projected to be among the best in the nation, says they pride themselves “in being a dominant defense.”
“I know Coach Barnett was a founder of the Spartandawgs, one of the people that it was originated from,” Adams said. “I just think it’s a legacy that the defense and in general, as a whole, we just come together and we just be unstoppable.”
Junior linebacker Denicos Allen, who led last year’s team in sacks, added: “The Spartandawgs, that’s like our little fraternity. We believe that we are the most physical defense in the Big Ten and possibly in the nation. When you eatin’, you makin’ plays; Spartandawgs, you play for each other; and 60 minutes of unnecessary roughness, you just go out and dominate.”
“Spartandawgs” is starting to become a term that defines the whole Michigan State football team as well as the entire Spartan student body.
“It gives ‘em all a common bond, you know, being a Spartandawg,” Barnett said. “We’re building something and a legacy that they can just keep it going. So everybody still feels attached to the program I think, too, when they see that because they were a Spartandawg at one time. Once you’re a Spartandawg, you’re a Spartandawg for life.”