Senior Spartans reflect on football career
It’s been one memorable ride for MSU’s senior class.
From securing a berth in the college football playoff in 2015 to finishing the 2016 season with a 3-9 record, the lowest in the Mark Dantonio era, the 15 seniors on this year’s roster have experienced the highs and the lows of the Spartan football program.
During the last four years, MSU has won two Big Ten Conference titles and came away with a stunning comeback win over Baylor in the 2015 Cotton Bowl. For the seniors that redshirted their first year with the program, they were able to witness MSU’s unforgettable 2013 season, when the Spartans secured a conference title after defeating Ohio State and ended the season with a Rose Bowl win over Stanford. Even with those victories, the Spartans all felt the disappointment of last year's 3-9 season.
Whatever lies for MSU’s seniors upon conclusion of this season, they will have memories that will last a lifetime.
While senior linebacker Shane Jones and senior running back Gerald Holmes never took to the field in the green and white in 2013, that season was home to their favorite Spartan memory.
“They went 7-6 the year before in 2012, and then to see them go 13-1 in 2013, man, they just paved the way for us younger guys and just giving us the blueprint on how to be successful,” Jones said.
Both Jones and Holmes redshirted in 2013 but were members on the scout team. While Holmes played a small role on the team that season, the opportunity to play a part on that historic run was an “amazing experience.”
“That was amazing to just come in,” Holmes said. “I wouldn’t say we were at our high. We were actually coming off a pretty average season, but to come in and kind of contribute to that winning season that we had — we went to the Rose Bowl — been on scout team, that was fun playing those guys that’s out there balling on Saturdays.”
After five seasons in East Lansing, Jones admits it’s going to be tough to leave the program.
“Being here for five years, looking back on everything, I’ve been part of so many great moments here,” Jones said. “I’m going to miss these guys. … We went through a lot this past offseason, and we grew together. We grew a lot closer, and I can say these guys are my brothers. It’s going to be tough.”
'Not always smooth'
Throughout the remainder of the 2017 season, a slew of emotions will run through each senior on this year’s roster.
“It’s been a ride; that’s how I’ll explain it. It’s been a ride — not always smooth, not always bumpy, ups and downs,” Holmes said. “Definitely have more personal things I wish had went different ways, but at the same time, it’s been a blessing.”
Part of the emotions come from the drastically different seasons each year. After securing a berth in the College Football Playoff, the Spartans followed up their historic season with a dispiriting 3-9 season in 2016.
The Spartans’ lackluster performance last season resulted in MSU not becoming bowl eligible for the first time in the Dantonio era.
A year removed from a season that Spartan fans want to forget, MSU is back on the national radar and are now bowl eligible once again.
“After last season, our seniors were given a team that was beat down,” senior linebacker Chris Frey said. “We were excited to set the leadership on this team from the beginning and get ready to turn it around and get back to where Spartan football is supposed to be, and I think we did a really good job of that.”
Frey said he thought the team was divided last year throughout last year’s tumultuous season but now believes this year’s seniors have brought the team back together.
“I feel like we were divided last year a little bit, but from the start of this offseason throughout the entire year, I think we’ve done a very good job as a senior class and as a leadership council to bring this team together as one,” he said. “That was the main focus, and I think we’ve done a very good job of that this offseason and continuing this season.”
Future of MSU
After a complete turnaround from 2016, the future is bright for the Spartan football program after this season.
MSU exhibits one of the youngest teams in the country. For the freshman on the roster, a year playing competitive football on the collegiate level will only help them heading into 2018.
“I feel like the future is bright,” Holmes said. “We rolled a big stone from last year to this year. So the main thing was however things turned out, we wanted to leave on a positive end to give the young guys something to hold on to, to look for next year.”
After the MSU’s loss to Ohio State on the road Nov. 11, the Spartans saw their Big Ten title hopes dwindle as they no longer controlled their destiny in the conference.
But for senior center Brian Allen, all is not lost following the Spartans’ 48-3 blowout in Columbus.
“It’s not like a consolation prize, but today sucks,” Allen said after the loss. “But I’m pretty happy with the team we have and where we are right now as opposed to where we were last year and how far we’ve come.
“This is still such a young team that my goal at the beginning of the year was to get them in the right direction, not get me any accolades or anything like that (or) get me the senior year that I deserve. Nothing like that. I wanted to get them back to competing and getting to the top, and I think this season is going to propel them into next season to be even better than this year and win games like that, so I think that’s the biggest thing.”
While MSU’s chances to head to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game are slim, the team still wants to send its seniors out on top.
“We’re not going to Indy, but there’s other great things to do,” junior safety Khari Willis said. “There’s still more to accomplish, there’s more to add to their resume, there’s still more games to play as far as guys trying to continue on. But our seniors, man — few opportunities left, so let's just make the most of them, the moments they had here. The careers that they had, they’ve been remarkable. How much they’ve won here, it’s just been excellent, so we just want to come out next week and try to … send them out with a bang.”