'Meet the Spartans' attracts thousands of fans despite trying offseason
Despite a rough year, thousands of fans flocked to Spartan Stadium Wednesday to get a chance to be up close and personal with the 2017 MSU football team during the 15th annual “Meet the Spartans” event.
MSU football endured an uncommon offseason as it dealt with two sexual assault cases, which resulted in the dismissal of all players involved.
Upon investigation of the first sexual assault case that took allegedly took place on Jan. 16, it was revealed Curtis Blackwell, former MSU director of college advancement and performance, interfered with the investigation and was then released from the program when his contract was not renewed.
John Baril, MSU fan and Wayne State University graduate, said it is hard to manage a whole football team and added he was bewildered by the dismissal of Blackwell.
“I think it’s a matter of personal responsibility,” Baril said. “The coach has, besides the staff, he’s got 110 or so players to keep track of, and how can you honestly do that? When it cropped up, they told everybody not to mess with the official investigation, and my understanding is that’s why Curtis Blackwell got in trouble because he spoke to some of the players. But it would be natural if you saw those players every day to ask, ‘I hear there’s something with the police. What’s going on?’ It’d be natural to ask a question like that.”
42-year-old MSU fan Bob Gould was pleased with the way MSU handled the sexual assault probes and also scorned the way the Spartans’s rival, the University of Michigan, handles similar cases.
“I’ll say this: at State — on that sexual assault stuff — State doesn’t play around,” Gould said. “Those guys are off the team. Now at Michigan, they had a guy called Grant Perry, a wide receiver. … He came to Michigan State, and he was harassing some students, and he grabbed a girl by the buttocks and the cops went to arrest him … (and) he resisted arrest. And (head coach Jim) Harbaugh just stated within a week or two that he was on the team, so Michigan handles sexual assault different.”
Despite everything, lines were long and the spirits were high as the Spartan faithful were able to see the team for the first time since the spring game in April.
“I like to see the team, I like to see the stadium, see the changes that have been made, including the lighting,” Baril said. “It’s more or less the same reason I like going to the spring game where you can actually see them out on the field.”
John’s wife, Lynn, said she thought the event is a great way for the team to see its supporters.
Lynn, an MSU graduate, predicts the Spartans will rebound from their 3-9 season in 2016 and will notch a record higher than .500 in 2017.
“They had the talent last year, and they have more talent coming in and last year they lost games by just a few points,” she said. “They gave it up in the second half. I don’t expect them to do that this year.”
Similar to Lynn, John is certain the Spartans are poised to have a much better record than last season.
“I think they’re going to win at least seven games,” he said. “I think they’re going to be definitely better than last year, and evaluating last year, the best teams that we played — Michigan and Ohio State — we lost by (a few) points. Those top teams were in danger through the whole game, and we nearly beat them, so it was a better team than their record showed, and I think this will be a better team than people are guessing about the younger players (and) how well they’ll all fit in.”
While the Barils are confident in the team this season, Gould thinks the lack of depth on the defensive line will prove costly for the Spartans.
“I think we’re lacking depth on the defensive line, so it’s going to hurt — guys are going to get tired,” Gould said. “That’s what happened last year, and we lost some more guys. We lost a lot of four-star recruits. I think it’s going to be a tough year, but next year I think we’ll start bouncing back.”
The Spartans will look to begin their comeback season on Sept. 2 against Bowling Green at 12 p.m.