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New faces given chance to start as season nears

August 27, 2002

For the MSU football team, preseason practices have created some interesting battles for the season opener’s starting positions.

Some of the headliners include the jockeying for the second wide receiver spot and backup tailback. But those battles have come as a result of depth, not injury.

But the left tackle position is an exception. Redshirt freshman Stefon Wheeler will get his first collegiate start at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against Eastern Michigan at Spartan Stadium.

He’ll get to start over senior offensive tackle Ulish Booker, who is nursing a leg injury. He is listed as probable for Saturday.

Wheeler said he’s happy to get the start but said it’s not going to cause animosity or break up a friendship.

“I’m just proud that it happened,” he said of getting the start. It’s not a battle. We’re going to help each other out.”

Booker was the 6-foot-5, 303-pounder’s host when he visited MSU, and they bonded from the start.

“Him being from the East Coast, and I’m from New Jersey, it was an instant connection,” he said.

“Me and Book have been real good friends on and off the field. He’s like a brother to me, so it’s like a family thing.”

When Wheeler came to MSU he was 370-plus pounds, but now he has dropped 70 pounds. In addition to losing the weight he said improving his technique has helped him the most.

“I just let them do what they want to do, and then I take advantage of it,” he said of his style of blocking.

“Technique is everything, and hard work goes a long way, too.”

Wheeler is not the only player that will make his first collegiate start.

Junior wide receiver Ziehl Kavanaght emerged from the flanker position battle. He will start against the Eagles.

Senior wide receiver BJ Lovett and freshman Agim Shabaj are the reserves. Freshman Matt Trannon is slated to backup Charles Rogers at split end. Williams said all of the receivers will play.

Kavanaght also was listed as the No. 1 punt returner. He will share duties with Shabaj, who will return kicks.

The starting backfield will remain the same as it has been since spring practice with junior quarterback Jeff Smoker, senior tailback Dawan Moss and junior fullback Mark Goebel.

“That definitely helps,” Smoker said.

“We just have some guys that have experience under their belts, and it’s going to help us on the field, but it helps in practice too.”

Williams said Moss has made improvements since being converted to tailback.

“We have several questions about this team, and Dawan is one of them,” he said.

“Dawan’s progress has been very positive throughout the entire training camp.”

Lost in the chaos of the other positions has been the tight ends. Sophomore tight end Jason Randall gets the start.

Sophomore tight end Eric Knott also is expected to play.Williams said Knott has the most versatility of the two and will be used in a similar capacity as former Spartan tight end Chris Baker.


As of Monday morning about 500 single game tickets remained available for Saturday’s season opener.

Tickets are $38 each and can be purchased at Jenison Field House or by calling (800)-GOSTATE.


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