Former Spartans flourishing after completing college careers
Senior linebacker Greg Jones, left, and senior nose tackle Antonio Jeremiah celebrate Saturday at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Purdue Boilermakers, 35-31 in the seniors’ last home game. Matt Radick/The State News
One of the pitfalls of collegiate athletics that many fail to realize is that athletes actually are students, and one day they’ll graduate and move on with their lives. Too often, fans fall in love with a player at their favorite school and after their NCAA eligibility is up, they seem to disappear off the map.
The State News was able to link up with a few former MSU athletes to see what post-East Lansing life has been like for them. Although their Spartan careers have come to a close, many of their names will be remembered in MSU circles for years to come.
One year removed from commanding the MSU defense as a four-year stalwart at middle linebacker, Jones found himself getting fitted for Super Bowl rings as a member of the New York Giants. Jones, a sixth-round selection by the Giants in 2011, finished his rookie season with 31 tackles en route to winning Super Bowl XLVI, 21-17, over the New England Patriots.
Jones made national headlines following the Super Bowl when he dropped to one knee to propose to his then-girlfriend and former MSU women’s basketball player Amanda Piechowski seconds after the game was over while confetti still was raining down inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. He said he’ll officially tie the knot on July 6.
“We’re looking forward to it — a lot of family, a lot of close friends (will be there); it’s going to be a great time,” Jones said.
Learning the playbook and his responsibilities as a linebacker in an NFL defense was the toughest transition for Jones upon entering the league.
“We’ve gotta be on the same page in order for the defense to work,” he said. “So I think that’s the hardest thing about it. Physically I feel I was fine. Mentally, just learning the defense and being on the same page with my teammates.”
Without Jones’ services in 2011-12, the Spartans’ defense actually took a step forward and became one of the most dominant units in the country. His replacement at middle linebacker, then-sophomore Max Bullough, was more than a stopgap and made a name for himself by leading the team with 89 tackles.
“(Bullough) was always ready for that job, and I feel like I helped out as much as I possibly could so that he would be ready and able to lead that job,” Jones said. “He was a little bit raw at first like most freshmen, but I knew since training camp that he was going to be special, and he’s going to have a very, very bright future ahead of him.”
After going undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft, Weaver began his professional career with the Miami Dolphins where he signed as a free agent. The former Spartan cornerback bounced around to a few different teams throughout the 2010 and 2011 seasons before finally heading to Detroit to play for his hometown Lions, which he said means the world after being a fan as a kid.
“(I played) for the Southfield (High) Blue Jays, played for Michigan State and now an opportunity to play for the Detroit Lions — I get to represent the hometown,” Weaver said.
The Lions made the leap from leaguewide laughing stock to playoff contenders last season, while building a reputation similar to the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s, due in part to the relentless play of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and fiery head coach Jim Schwartz.
Although Weaver admits not being the closest with Suh, he said he’s not the bad guy he sometimes is made out to be.
“Just in my conversations with him, (he’s) a very respectable guy off the field,’ Weaver said. “A couple things, of course, mistakes that he made in the game that people try to plague him with — I don’t see that at all. He’s a hard worker, he goes about his business, he’s not arrogant at all … and that’s the type of players that you like.”
Schwartz, a very animated coach on the sideline, has tendencies that remind Weaver of MSU head coach Mark Dantonio, he said.
“(Schwartz is) a guy that’s going to give you opportunities, he’s going to tell it to you straight and he’s never going to take anything for granted,” Weaver said. “He’s not going to feel like he’s arrived just because of one good season the previous year.”
The six-year veteran safety with the New York Jets finds himself in one of the league’s most polarizing locker rooms after the team acquired quarterback Tim Tebow earlier this year. Tebow — the backup who gained a huge following after leading his former team, the Denver Broncos, to an unlikely playoff berth and upset victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers — seems to be the center of the national media’s attention since he arrived in New York.
“He’s a real good guy, a real good teammate, good guy in a locker room — so he’ll be good for the team,” Smith said of Tebow. “Media is in there standing around his locker every day, but I mean things are pretty much the same. We have a good group of guys in there, and we all get along pretty well.”
And then there’s the bombastic head coach, Rex Ryan, who has more than ruffled a few feathers with his comments throughout his three-year tenure, including a few Super Bowl guarantees.
“That’s Rex,” Smith said when asked if Ryan was as ostentatious as he appeared. “Rex is what you see is what you get. He tells it how it is, he’s the same person in the locker room as he is in the media.”
Smith, who finished last season with a team-high 89 tackles and 2.5 sacks from the safety position, said he still keeps up with MSU football on Big Ten Network, or records the games if he has a road game.
“It’s great, Dantonio’s got things going in the right direction and hopefully they’re going to keep winning Big Ten championships,” Smith said.
Neitzel didn’t participate in the Kick for the House charity soccer game because he’s currently training to hopefully land a spot on an NBA Summer League team which starts later this month.
After going undrafted in the 2008 NBA Draft, the former Spartan point guard’s career has taken him around the globe playing for teams in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and, most recently, China.
“My agent, he’s in contact with teams now and just seeing if I’ll get a spot on one of the teams,” Neitzel said. “A lot depends on the NBA Draft … what teams draft point guards and what teams are in the need for a point guard for next season. So I’m just waiting to hear and working out and staying in shape.”
Prior to playing in China, Neitzel spent last preseason with the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and later their developmental league affiliate.
Whenever his career or training doesn’t interfere, Neitzel said he tries to catch every MSU basketball game and stays in contact with many of the coaches and players. When he has the time, he comes back to East Lansing in the summer to put in some work at open gym sessions with the team, he said.
“You know, this is my family and I care about the program and the players,” Neitzel said. “I try to help them out as much as possible.”
The 2004 Mr. Basketball of Michigan award winner said he was proud of the decorated season Draymond Green — a second-round pick of the Golden State Warriors — put together last year.
“It was one of the best,” Neitzel said. “He had a great carer, not only one season, but he had a great career. He was a great leader for Michigan State; he did a little bit of everything. In my opinion, he’s one of the best Spartans to ever play here.”