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Dortch to battle for top running back spot

March 27, 2003

Tyrell Dortch has endured much pain and suffering, but the struggles have also simultaneously rekindled his love for football.

"I appreciate everything about football now," the junior running back said. "It can be taken away from you with the snap of a finger. I'm going to go out there and play.

"Every little thing I do is real exciting - it just feels good to be back out there."

Dortch suffered a broken right lower leg during his sophomore season while filling in at cornerback. He did not play at all last season but is listed as the No. 1 running back, along with sophomore Jaren Hayes, on MSU's 2003 spring depth chart.

With his body at "95 percent," Dortch said he is enjoying practice and ready to learn the new pass offense football head coach John L. Smith has implemented.

Dortch, who now weighs 206 pounds - 13 pounds heavier than his last playing weight - said he is not hesitant to participate in full contact drills.

And Smith, who has been impressed with his running backs thus far, wants to see how Dortch handles full contact drills.

"Dortch is going to be ready to go," Smith said. "He looks great right now, but nobody's banging (his legs) right now, either. He's going to have to take some shots."

But Dortch, who feels he is not running as fast as he could, knows he'll get stiff competition from Hayes and the other backs. Dortch has 267 rushing yards in 15 career games at MSU.

"We're out there competing - we're applying for a job," Dortch said. "I think everybody wants to start, but whatever happens, happens. I'm going to go out there and try my hardest."

He also realizes he must tutor the younger running backs.

"I just want to lead on to Jaren Hayes and other running backs," he said. "and to pass on to them what was passed on to me."

No matter what happens this spring, his teammates know it is remarkable that he's even on the field.

"It's amazing for him to come back from something like that," junior safety Jason Harmon said. "I know when I first came back from injury I was a little paranoid. If he can get past that, he'll be all right."

Quarterback quandary

Although his top quarterbacks this spring are junior Damon Dowdell and redshirt freshman Drew Stanton, Smith said he is still open to the idea of moving his signal callers to other positions if necessary.

He said Dowdell and sophomore quarterback Aaron Alexander are athletic enough to play skill positions such as wide receiver and defensive back.

"There's going to be someone who's going to rise to the top, and to some of the others - 'If you're not going to play, then let's get going,'" Smith said. "Right now, we're working on them being quarterbacks."

Smith added senior signal caller Jeff Smoker, listed at No. 3 on the depth chart, is the only quarterback that does not have a chance to be No. 1 after spring ball. But he may have a chance in the fall.

Tough as steel

The 85 players at spring practice have mostly worked on developing new attitudes, Smith said.

MSU padded up for the first time Wednesday.

"We've got to be bigger, stronger, faster guys than we are now. We've got to come out of spring knowing we can take a hit and give a hit. I remember a tradition years ago, doggone it, when you lined up against Michigan State and you got bruised. Hopefully, we can do that again. We have to add some toughness.

"Defense is a little scary at this point. We're going to have to develop the attitude of the Marines - the few, the proud, the brave."

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