In the spirit of the ESPY Awards next month, we have decided to take that concept with the major awards and apply it to the past year of Michigan State athletics. Readers will have an opportunity to vote for the Best Male Athlete, Best Female Athlete, Best Team, Best Coach and Best Game. When looking for nominees, we actively tried to avoid putting multiple representatives from a single sport in each individual category. When we get to the Best Game category, you will see we failed miserably in that regard. We will announce all of the winners once we get past each of these categories. Today, you will have the opportunity to vote for the Best Male Athlete of 2015-16.
Connor Cook (Football) – Connor Cook had a disappointing season according to some as he battled a shoulder injury since the Maryland game. Before that, he carried a Spartan football team that struggled running the ball when you consider how dominant the offensive line should have been. He wrapped up the season with very similar numbers compared to 2014 when he made our list. He threw for 3,131 yards and 24 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. Despite his injury, he was first-team All-Big Ten, the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner, the Big Ten Championship MVP and even finished 9th in Heisman voting. There are a lot of “what ifs” regarding his health and the potential of the MSU football team. Cook was the 100th pick in the NFL Draft and went to the Oakland Raiders.
Jake Hildebrand (Hockey) – Like Cook, Jake Hildebrand also had a drop in production. Last year, Hildebrand was a first-team All-American and the Big Ten Player of the Year. This year, was only named honorable mention All-Big Ten. His save percentage dropped from 93% to 90.4% and his goals against average went from 2.18 to 3.12. He did have a Big Ten-best three shutouts this past season, bringing his career total to 13. That number is the third most shutouts in school history. No goalie in the Big Ten faced more shots or had more saves last season. While the individual success didn’t mimic last year’s production, he was still one of the few bright spots for a hockey team that only won 32.4% of their games. Hildebrand is the first four-time MVP of the Spartans in program history. He signed with the Allen Americans of the ECHL and played a role in their Kelly Cup championship.
Jordan Zimmerman (Baseball) – Of players with more than three at-bats, no player on the baseball team had a higher batting average than Jordan Zimmerman’s .374. He also had the second-highest on-base percentage (.461) behind only Alex Troop. Zimmerman’s nine home runs and 37 RBI’s also led the team. The first baseman was named as a second-team All-Big Ten selection following his productive year. He was also named second-team Mideast ABCA/Rawlings All-Region Team. He ended up being a 7th round selection in the MLB Draft as he went to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Denzel Valentine (Basketball) – Denzel Valentine did everything for the MSU basketball team. He led the Spartans in minutes, points, assists, steals and free throw percentage. He was also second in rebounds and three point percentage. He carried out point guard duties and was the best perimeter defender on the team not named Lourawls Nairn. Eron Harris split time with Nairn guarding the best threat of the other team, but that was to lighten the load on Valentine as every part of the offense ran through him. Though the postseason was considered a disappointment, he did help lead the Spartans to the the Big Ten Tournament Championship. He was the Big Ten Player of the Year and was, without question, one of the top two players in the NCAA as he split numerous player of the year awards with Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield.
Sherod Hardt (Cross Country) – Though Sherod Hardt was the fourth Spartan to cross the line at the Big Ten Championships and the 23rd finisher overall, he exceeded that in the NCAA Great Lakes Regional. He led all Spartans and finished seventh overall, helping him earn first-team All-Region honors for the second consecutive season. Hardt was also the first Spartan (54th overall) to finish in the NCAA Championships, as he helped the Spartans finish 25th. Prior to entering the NCAA Championships, the Spartans were ranked 19th in the country as they were being led by Hardt.
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