The first game of 2019 is still a month away for the Michigan State Spartans football team, but Thursday unofficially kicked off the season. Mark Dantonio, along with the rest of the conference coaches, were in attendance for Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.
Dantonio was in the first group of coaches to speak, with the second half speaking Friday. During his press conference, the Spartans head coach touched on everything from this year’s mantra, to the future mayor of Chicago.
Read his full comments below:
On WR Jayden Reed and the transfer portal:
“The portal has been interesting. I think there has been over 2500 names that have been into the portal. You almost have to recruit that as well as well as your high school seniors. As the only individually that we looked and really visited from the portal. I think you have a need, you look to that need to try and satisfy that. We took Jayden and very excited about his opportunities as he moves forward. He’s 3-for-3 and he’s an outstanding young player that will be coming to Michigan State.”
Realignment of Big Ten divisions:
“I’ve not heard about the realignment of divisions, but I guess change is inevitable. And at some point in time things happen. So I’ll just deal with it as it comes.”
Replacing Khari Willis:
“Khari Willis was an outstanding player for us, he’s currently with the Colts. He meant a lot to our football team in general as a leader. He had a tremendous senior year. So we’ll miss that, we always miss good players.”
On DB Xavier Henderson:
“Xavier Henderson is a guy that played as a true freshman, has a tremendous amount of ability. A four-star player out of Ohio, out of Pickerington. You know, when you have a guy like Khari, he sort of wears off on you a little bit, in terms of the next one up, so I think he’s taken on a lot of his habits and we’re very excited about his progress and he should be an outstanding player. Great ball skills, great range, big. He’s gained a little bit of weight, he’s about 205 now. And he’s played, he’s got game experience. We bring back a defense that is in the top 10 in the country in I think 5 different categories. So we’re excited about that opportunity, it’s the reason I brought four different defensive players here with us this weekend here, because of the value that’s been placed on defense this past year and really the results of what they’ve been able to do.”
On Urban Meyer and Ohio State’s new head coach Ryan Day:
“Urban Meyer’s done a tremendous job there. I think he’s lost, I’ve got two hands, and I think he’s only lost eight times. It’s amazing over the course of time since 2012 the championships that have been won there and the direction that program has gone and what’s taken place there. I’ve been very impressed with Ryan Day, I’ve only met him a couple of times. Obviously he’s had great success on the football field. But I’ve been impressed with him as a person too. Down to earth and charismatic. I look forward to the challenges that he brings.”
On QB Brian Lewerke:
“Brian Lewerke, if you look back at his sophomore year he’s the only in Michigan State history that passed for over 2500 ran for over 500. He was an extremely productive player as a sophomore. He got hit a little with the injury bug midway through the season. But I think his confidence is back, he’s certainly back and healthy. Bigger and stronger, faster. And he comes into his senior year with a tremendous amount of experience.”
With that being said, Rocky Lombardi our other quarterback who played a little bit in and out this past year, started some games, is also back and he’ll be a redshirt sophomore so he brings another sense of experience as well. Which is a good option as well. They’ll compete to some degree, but right now Brian is our number one quarterback and I expect great things from him. I expect him to return to his sophomore status and very exciting to watch him play.”
On Jim Bollman and the offensive coaching staff:
“Jim Bollman is a long-time offensive line coach. We restructured our offensive staff. We basically have put everyone back to their positions of expertise. We were able to hire coach Bollman in 2013 and he had an immediate impact. He’s coach I think 44 is the active number of professional football players on the offensive line. Guys that have gone on to the NFL. So he brings a great expertise there. His teaching progression has been simplified a little bit from what I understand, and in talking to the players and I look forward to watching the progress there. He’s a guy that’s been able to calm the waters. Coach Staten goes back to coaching the tight ends. Coach Warren back to the quarterbacks, Coach Salem back to the running backs and brought coach Treadwell back to the wide receivers. All of those guys have coached guys at the highest level. They’ve all had tremendous success at those positions and we’re looking forward to that production.”
On DL Kenny Willekes:
“You know it’s amazing some of the success guys have had coming to Michigan State and other places about being what I call free agents. Jack Conklin came as a free agent and becomes a number one pick and an All-American player. Kyle Ellsworth, same way and makes the hit in the Rose Bowl and is the MVP of the Rose Bowl. Kenny Willekes is just another story, great story. Intense. Guy that came here as a linebacker, transitioned to tight end, sort of the F. Worked on scout team for two years and all of a sudden he’s playing a little bit in ‘16 and then he busts out in 2017 and Defensive Lineman of the Year in the Big Ten Conference in ‘18. He’s a guy that, very explosive, very tough, hard worker, prepares, rubs off on everybody around him and his intensity is contagious. So we’re really looking forward to him and the others. He’s on this set I guess today, so you’ll get an opportunity to meet him. How does that happen? I think it happens with dreams. Our focus this year, our mantra this year is ‘Chase the moment’ and it’s really about chasing dreams. And I think that he’s done that and continues to do that at a high level.”
Mindset of road schedule
“Our schedule sets up with, what do we have, three home games, then we go away to Northwestern, come back against Indiana, and then we go away to Ohio State and Wisconsin. So, that stretch of three of four road games is a tough stretch there, but we’ll deal with it. Our mindset is we’ve won in everyone of those stadiums. We’ve accomplished great things along the way. So we need to get ourselves ready to play in away games. They’re great venues, we need to embrace those venues and play to the crowd. You know, it’s exciting. Sometimes you enjoy playing at home, sometimes you enjoy playing away. That’s why they have the away games. My mindset and our mindset has always been we will only limit what we can dream on. We can only limit ourselves. So going to an away stadium will be tough, they’re all tough. Every game that we play is a tough environment that we play in. So home and away, we’ll get ready.”
On DL Raequan Williams
“Raequan is from Chicago and uh, you know, we’ve got a lot of reporters here and everything, so I just want you to know that his goal and his vision is to be the mayor of Chicago. So we look forward to his campaign. But Raequan is a tremendous young person. We had numerous guys have to make a decision whether they were going to come back or go out into the NFL Draft and he was one of those guys. He made that decision to get his degree and sort of complete his circle in that area. He is a tremendous person, a very caring person, an outstanding athlete. Again I brought three defensive players, there’s a reason behind that because I felt that they performed number one but otherwise they bring a sense of leadership to our football team as well. At this point in time I felt like that was the right thing to do. He’s a tremendous young person and I think he rubs off on people. If you have a chance to meet him today, he’s a giver he’s a light, and will do great things beyond football in his life.