Tyler Hoover knows a little bit about spring football.
After all, the senior defensive tackle is wrapping up his sixth spring in an MSU uniform.
It was 2008 when Hoover first joined head coach Mark Dantonio’s program as an early enrollee to participate in spring football, and a string of injuries have kept him around East Lansing this long.
He received a medical redshirt as a freshman for a shoulder injury and missed all but one game of the 2011 season with a fractured rib.
On January 3, he tweeted the news that he had received his sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA.
Throughout his time at MSU, Hoover has seen the program evolve from an underachiever to a consistent contender in the Big Ten under Dantonio.
“My freshman year, our goal was to get to a bowl game,” Hoover said. “And obviously now, the expectations are way beyond that. We’re trying to be champions every day. That’s the biggest change in our mindsets. It went from 2008 of ‘Let’s get to a bowl game.’ Now 2013, ‘let’s be champions.”
Hoover has undergone a transformation himself during his six years as a Spartan.
Coming out of Novi High School, he came to MSU as lanky, 6-foot-7 defensive end — a position he started nine games at in 2010.
With a lack of depth at defensive tackle entering last season, the coaches slid him inside and he responded by throwing on more than 20 pounds of bulk in preparation for the new role.
“Tyler’s got to remain healthy,” Dantonio said. “But I think from a consistency basis, maybe he was the most consistent defensive lineman of the year last year when you go back and look at the film and the cutups.”
As the elder statesman of the defensive linemen, Hoover has stepped into more of a leadership role this spring by trying to shape a group of talented young players, including sophomores Lawrence Thomas, Mark Scarpinato and Damon Knox.
“He’s had a lot of experience playing inside now. Experience is that true teacher,” defensive line coach Ron Burton said. “I think over time, this is his time to shine being a leader on the football field and that’s what I’m seeing out there now. But he’s got to continue to get better as he improves himself.”
Perhaps nobody has benefitted more from Hoover’s wisdom than Thomas, who transitioned from linebacker to defensive end to tackle.
Thomas still was getting adjusted to the position change at the beginning of spring practice but, at this point, he thinks he has it “down pat,” for the most part, he said.
As someone who made the same transition a year ago, Hoover has been there to offer guidance — he even compared Thomas’ quickness at the snap of the ball to former MSU standout Jerel Worthy.
“Tyler’s a really good coach,” Thomas said.
“He comes to me to teach me how to use my hands because I’ve got to focus on using my hands more. … He’s been a real great help this spring going to the defensive tackle spot.”
Even in his sixth go-around, Hoover knows he can improve his game, and he’s learned how to take advantage of the short spring practice period.
“How I look at it is, you’re always going to learn something new,” he said.