The following story is a guest post from Justin Spiro of “The Spiro Avenue Show.”
My work on “The Spiro Avenue Show” has afforded me the privilege of meeting characters across the spectrum. We hosted Becca Polanski, a clinical psychologist whose job is to rehabilitate society’s worst criminals in the prison system. The next episode, Detroit radio legend Michael Stone listened to me bemoan the many near-misses of a second national championship throughout the Tom Izzo era in East Lansing. Admittedly, our scope is wide.
I am seldom surprised by guest interactions. I know these people are interesting, because “interesting” is our only gatekeeping criteria. We have spoken with doctors, lawyers, bestselling authors and accomplished athletes. We stay ready for anything and love the nimble nature of the format.
The night new Michigan State quarterback Katin Houser and wide receiver Germie Bernard — two early enrollees for the football program this month — arrived on my porch was different. I was surprised that night.
Houser, a heralded 17-year-old quarterback from California, and Bernard, an 18-year-old wide receiver from Nevada with star potential, were pleasant enough in the days preceding the episode. I asked them to do the show, they said yes, we picked a date, and that was that.
My expectations for their performance on the episode were lower than our baseline. We are accustomed to dealing with licensed professionals well into their 30s and beyond. When we have had college athletes, it has always been players on the verge of graduation. I was excited for the discussion, but had built-in the “These guys are just kids” caveat.
It took all of three seconds for “these guys” to make me feel stupid.
“We are here,” the text message from Germie Bernard read.
I darted out of the studio to receive the crown jewels of Michigan State’s recruiting class at the front door.
“I am Katin Houser, nice to meet you sir,” Houser said, extending his hand for a handshake.
“Germie Bernard, it is a pleasure, thank you for inviting us,” Bernard said, following with a handshake of his own.
These “kids” had set the “Spiro Avenue” show record for most professional greeting at the door.
We headed downstairs, passing a large picture of Mark Dantonio and Mel Tucker celebrating with the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
“Wow, that is really something,” Houser remarked.
“You have a beautiful house, sir,” Bernard said. “I want to be in one of those (pictures with Paul Bunyan).”
I pointed to our basement bar and offered them a drink – of the non-alcoholic variety, of course – and they were amused by the sight of Bumbu Rum and 8 Mile Vodka.
“Coach Tuck watching us casually drinking on camera (during the show) is a scary visual,” Houser said, laughing.
“Water is perfect,” Bernard chuckled.
Any guest that appears on “The Spiro Avenue Show” has their picture on our studio wall. It is an homage to old school comedy clubs in Chicago – primarily Zanies – which adorn their walls with the various comedians who have passed through.
For this occasion, I had ordered T-shirts with the Liberty High School logo on the front. Houser and Bernard had played together at the school in Nevada.
“Will you wear these for our teaser photo?” I asked, certainly showing my usual embarrassment when asking guests to pose for these pictures.
Thankfully, they seemed to get a kick out of the idea.
“Never thought I would wear this logo again,” Bernard joked.
Houser, who had transferred to St. John Bosco in California for his final two seasons in high school went along with the idea, too.
“Like old times, Germie,” Houser laughed.
“MSU Chief of Propaganda,” @OdellBretthamJr, was in attendance for the show, excited to watch from the studio lobby while pushing the Spartan agenda from his iPhone. He was wearing his finest Detroit Red Wings jersey. We had not told the players he would be there, and Houser acted like we had brought in Magic Johnson to greet him.
“Oh wow, I didn’t know you’d be here!” Houser said. “How are you?”
Bernard seemed puzzled by his teammate’s sudden excitement over someone I literally introduced as “The famous MSU Chief Of Propaganda.”
We settled into the studio, closing the doors to run through our final sound checks. The instant the door was closed, Houser leaned over to Bernard and initiated this legendary exchange:
Houser: “Do you know who that was?”
Bernard: “The guy outside?”
Houser: “Yeah, man! That is OdellBretthamJr!”
Houser: “The MSU ‘Chief of Propaganda!’ From Twitter!
Bernard: “Oh wow, yeah…wait really? That’s him?”
The exchange made me wonder which of my house guests was the real celebrity. I think both guys would have ditched me in a second to hang out with Odell by the pool table. Luckily, they were polite and resisted that temptation. We invited the “MSU Chief of Propaganda” in for a quick photo, and it was time to roll cameras.
The show began, and I became exceedingly impressed by both young men. Houser discussed his recruitment and why he had reversed his Boise State commitment. Bernard laid out the circumstances of his departure from the University of Washington. For the most part, the interview was straightforward and comfortable.
There was one section of the interview that had potential to be dicey. I knew going in that I wanted to discuss the transfer portal era, and each player’s appetite for “waiting their turn.” Would they expect to play early? And if they didn’t play early, would they be making a quick exit via the transfer portal?
Houser affirmed the obvious: Payton Thorne is the rightful entrenched starter at quarterback for Michigan State, and he is excited to learn from him.
But what happens when Thorne departs the program down the road? Would Houser embrace an open competition to replace him? Or would the bejeweled recruit expect “presumptive starter” status?
“I’m not scared of competition,” Houser said. “I am ready to go in and win that job whenever (Thorne departs). If I got put in that situation, I would definitely go in and compete. I would not look (to transfer) anywhere else.”
Houser alluded to the two-quarterback tandem he navigated with fellow recruit Pierce Clarkson at St. John Bosco. He was comfortable with competition and had not departed for a new high school that would have been thrilled to crown him the unchallenged starter at quarterback.
Bernard is in a different situation. Wide receivers play much earlier on average and cannot be blocked by a single incumbent. Most college teams have at least five players that log meaningful snaps at wide receiver. Would he expect to see the field as a true freshman?
“My expectation is to start,” Bernard said. “I know how competitive I am and how hard I work. As long as I (apply that) and know the playbook, my talent does the rest.”
There it was. The first real sign of an edge from either player. It was an encouraging response. The best receivers around the country — not to mention the NFL — almost always have just enough ego to make them dangerous. The type of “Screw you, this 50/50 ball is mine” mentality that has separated the good from the great receivers for decades. Current MSU wide receiver Jayden Reed saved the game in the victory over Michigan with a low-percentage fourth-down conversion on one of these 50/50 balls. Well, low-percentage if you aren’t throwing the ball to Jayden Reed, who expects to win 100 percent of the time, anyway.
Bernard repeated his intention to work hard, compete every day and earn everything he is given. The thought of needing to transfer due to lack of playing time was an almost alien concept to him. Alas, he would do what is asked of him and continue to work hard until the coaching staff had to put him on the field.
Both players spent the hour giving polished answers, managing an impressive balance of honesty and appropriate guardedness. When pressed to share details of a funny story from their first week at the football facility, Houser politely parried the question and changed the subject. The guy can’t even legally purchase cigarettes, yet here he is, calmly seizing control of the interview in the basement of a total stranger who is twice his age.
Two of the highest-ranked recruits in Michigan State’s 2022 class are equal parts intelligent, polite, down-to-earth and driven. We wrapped the show with a passionate disagreement about the Spartans’ alternate neon uniforms (Houser and I hate them, Bernard joined the Pro-Neon camp led by The Athletic’s Colton Pouncy).
When the show ended, the players thanked us for the invitation and spent 10 minutes talking about their love for Michigan State.
“The energy is just different, you know?” Houser said. “You can feel it in that football building the moment you walk in.”
Bernard replied with, “I am ready to roll up there, let’s do it.”
We left the studio, each player making sure to chat with OdellBretthamJr on their way out. Only Odell can steal the show without being on it.
I thanked the young players for their time and wished them well.
“It was an honor to be invited, sir,” Houser replied.
“Thank you so much for having us,” Bernard said.
The future of @MSU_Football looks good.— Justin Spiro (@DarkoStateNews) January 16, 2022
Katin Houser (17-years-old) and Germie Bernard (18-years-old) were grounded, humble, and a pleasure to host.
Can’t say enough about how polished and well mannered they were. Beyond their years!
Raised right.@katinhouser @germie_bernard pic.twitter.com/rXedjBoXhr
The two players were off, headed back to their exciting futures in East Lansing.
I returned to the studio, snatching my silenced phone off the floor. Of the roughly two dozen missed text messages that had flowed in, two stood out:
- “HOW is Katin Houser only 17?”
- “Germie seems like he’d torch a team for 300 yards before offering them a tour of campus.”
That sounds about right. The future of Michigan State football looks bright.
You can watch the full interview with Katin Houser and Germie Bernard below: