It’s taken a lot of hard work for the Michigan State football program to rise to the level of the nation’s elite, but now that they’re there, it’s MSU head football coach Mark Dantonio’s aim to keep them at the top.
The Spartans are coming off of arguably their best season in school history, one in which they finished with a 13-1 record, a Big Ten Championship, and capped it off with a Rose Bowl victory over the Stanford Cardinal.
However, despite these accolades, with the Spartan’s spring practice set to begin on Tuesday, Dantonio took to the media on Monday saying that how the 2014 team handles success will go a long way in determining what kind of season they have.
“You have to be able to handle success as we move forward in everything that we’re doing,” Dantonio said. “There’s no question that this year will be our greatest challenge in that area.”
“Every Michigan State team that we’ve had has to come in and earn their identity,” Dantonio went on to say. “We need to understand it’s not going to be given to them. We need to understand where we came from and never forget that. And take one step at a time to elevate our play and establish our leadership, establish who we are again. We do it the old fashioned way and that’s what we’ve done here. We can’t feel like we’re entitled…We have to make it happen. We have to be mature enough to be able to handle success.”
But how will they do that? Dantonio says he believes it starts with the players.
“We’ll go where our players take us and much of that depends on chemistry and leadership.”
“I think players always look to try and take another step further…Last year we had a chip on our shoulder. It’s important that chip remains on our shoulder.”
And of these players Dantonio speaks of, when asked about what position he has the most confidence in right now, Dantonio immediately mentioned his Rose Bowl MVP quarterback Connor Cook, who certainly has come a long way as both a player and a leader in the last 12 months.
“I think we’ve done a great job at handling success,” Cook said, echoing the sentiments spoken by his coach. “As long as you continue to take it one game at a time, one week at a time, I think we can be really good.”
“I would really say the main difference (this year) is just how hard the coaches have been pushing us,” Cook said, saying that of the three years he’s been at Michigan State, this has been the hardest off-season program he’s been a part off. “The coaches have done a great job at not letting us look back and relish (last year) and ever since then we’ve really put the (Rose Bowl) game behind us and just focused on this year and this spring and the 2014 season.”
And Cook, who spent his spring break in San Diego working out with quarterback guru George Whitfield, says this MSU Football team is full of motivated football players.
“I think the guys that we have on this team are hard workers. I feel like there aren’t any slackers on this team. If anything a Rose Bowl made us more hungry,” Cook said, going on to say that the week the team returned from Pasadena, guys were already back to working out.
Other leaders on this team, like center Travis Jackson, also like to make note of the fact that while last season was great, you don’t want to fall away from that type of success.
“You reach the Rose Bowl, you get a chance to win it. You don’t want to go back down from there,” Jackson said. “It’s just one of those things where you just want to come back, you got locker room that’s awesome and you got coaches that you want to play for. And you just don’t want to go back to a 7-6 season that we had in 2012. Michigan State is establishing itself as an elite football program and that’s due to everyone that’s ever played here and we just want to continue that and make sure it doesn’t fall down.”
And as Jackson, Cook and others continue to put in work over the course of the next month, it’s all in preparation for the MSU Football team’s spring game, which will take place Saturday, April 26. Kickoff will be at 2:00 pm ET and will be televised on Big Ten Network.