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New leaders bring fresh outlook for Spartans' season

August 24, 2005

Each season four captains are named for the MSU football team - this year's group is junior defensive end Clifton Ryan, junior quarterback Drew Stanton, senior center Chris Morris and senior safety Eric Smith.

"I like the mix, and I like those kids and what they've done," MSU head coach John L. Smith said. "We have a lineman, and we have a back-row guy on each side of the ball - the other thing that's a positive is we have a senior on both sides of the ball and a junior on both sides of the ball."

Smith officially announced the four captains at his press conference Aug. 8 at MSU football media day. Although he likes to have senior leaders, he doesn't have a problem with the two players who will be leading the team as juniors, and he has a plan to help the group.

"Those will be the four guys for now and probably what we'll do is add a senior per week - have an honorary captain per week as well," Smith said.

The idea for having one senior honorary captain per week is to help the captains out and to allow other seniors, such as senior wide receiver and 2004 captain Kyle Brown, to be seen as leaders of the team.

Interestingly enough, besides the two seniors, there are exactly 11 other seniors on the team - minus senior cornerback Jaren Hayes, who is not listed on the roster and currently suspended indefinitely - and each should get a chance to be an honorary captain.

For a guy such as Morris, being named a captain in his fifth and final season is something that can never be taken away from him.

"It's a tremendous honor and something that I'm going to have attached to my name the rest of my life," Morris said. "To be a part of the history of this school - it's just incredible."

Morris earned All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2004 and goes into the season with a 25-consecutive-games started streak at the center position. He had his best game against Michigan last season, when he recorded a career-high 15 pancake blocks and helped the Spartans rush for 368 yards.

Eric Smith said following in the footsteps of previous captains like Ronald Stanley, who was a two-time captain in 2003 and 2004 and his roommate last season, is going to be difficult.

"It's an honor and a big position," Eric Smith said. "Everybody's looking up to you we got some big shoes to fill.

"But if somebody's got a problem, they can come to me, if they need help or something - just get everyone going in the right direction."

Eric Smith has been a solid contributor on the defensive side of the ball for three years, recording at least one game with double-digit tackles in each of the last three seasons. With 31 games played, he's not only one of the more experienced players on defense, but on the entire team as well.

Ryan said at the Big Ten Media Day in Chicago that he is going to keep doing what he has been doing for the last three seasons on the field, leading by example, and try to help the new players adapt to life off the field. He also feels that being named a captain speaks a lot about his own character.

"I believe in being accountable to my teammates and my coaching staff because they count on me to get my job done," Ryan said. "The main thing coach wants me to do is talk to guys, coach guys up and lead by example - things I've been doing, but just to a greater extent."

Although Ryan and Stanton are juniors, both have played in over 20 games each and established themselves as leaders prior to this season. Ryan has played in every game the last two seasons and started in 12 of those 25 games.

In Stanton's first start at quarterback against Indiana last season, he threw for 172 yards and rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns, en route to a win over the Hoosiers. While his running was effective, he rushed for more than 100 yards only one other game the rest of last season, but threw for more than 300 yards twice - 308 versus Minnesota and 330 versus Hawaii.

Again, Smith stressed the accountability aspect of leadership for his team, saying it's not where he would like to see it. He added that players being accountable for their actions on and off the field is getting better, and he hopes this group of captains can help the team make strides in that area.

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