Before they saw their team come back and beat Rutgers, Spartan faithful at Spartan Stadium Saturday watched Michigan State's seniors take the field one last time.
Senior tight end Matt Sokol described what that moment felt like after the game.
“It’s such a privilege and such an honor to represent this university and play here for five years,” Sokol said. “All the other seniors can attest to that and feel the same way. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
The Spartans will lose some of their main starters, including Sokol, defensive backs Khari Willis and Matt Morrissey, linebacker Andrew Dowell, wide receiver Felton Davis III and offensive guard David Beedle.
This senior class has been on a rollercoaster ride the last several seasons. From winning the Big Ten conference championship and reaching the College Football Playoff in 2015, to going 3-9 in 2016, to turning it around for a 10-3 campaign last year.
“A lot of those guys came in as freshmen and played as freshmen,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. “They had a lot of great experiences and they saw depth in 2016 and reaffirmed themselves with last year’s ten win team and this year it’s been tight. Wish I could sit there and say, ‘Hey we won our tenth game tonight,’ but we didn’t.”
Junior linebacker and captain Joe Bachie looks back on the memories he has made with the current senior class and even talked about how these guys will impact his future after they have left the program.
“Those are some of my best friends,” Bachie said. “A couple of them are going to be at my wedding, that’s for sure. They are my brothers.”
During his final home game, Sokol got to experience something he truly will never forget. He earned his first touchdown of the season and the second touchdown of his entire career Saturday against the Scarlet Knights.
He saw this as a result of the impact the program has had on him and the hard work and progress he has put in through his five seasons.
“I’ve put so much work into this program for the past four or five years here,” Sokol said. “It’s great to make a couple of plays like that in our last game at Spartan Stadium. We come in day in and day out and just work.”
The seniors who work directly under Defensive Coordinator Mike Tressel got to experience something even more special during their usual Friday night team dinner. Tressel allowed the players to bring their families along to enjoy with them.
“I love these guys,” Tressel said. “Michigan State football is so important to them and there is such leadership in the group. We have a lot of guys that weren’t necessarily starters who have truly impacted our program.”
Between the players who started and who didn’t, There was one senior who’s career ended a little sooner than expected. Felton Davis III tore his Achilles against Michigan on Oct. 20 and missed the last five games of the season. Davis took part in senior day activities Saturday and received the loudest cheer from Spartan fans while he walked over to his family on crutches.
Junior wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. feels the pain Davis is going through after coming off an injury and missing a majority of the season. Stewart views it as a privilege to get a chance to see the field one more time, as the Spartans get ready for a bowl game.
“Anytime you get another game to play football it’s a blessing,” Stewart said. “Even though I know the season didn’t go as we pictured, it’s still a blessing that I get a chance to play football. There are people out there that don’t get to do what they love.”
As for the rest of the seniors, they said Dantonio's program has impacted them in many ways besides playing football. They have built friendships and learned valuable skills to improve themselves as men.
“This program taught me how to be a man and how to be a man with great character and integrity and how to be a leader,” Willis said. “I feel like Coach (Dantonio) is the ultimate leader to me. The ups and downs I went through in this program I wouldn’t trade them for nothing. I wouldn’t trade it for a national championship just because of how much I learned with my brothers through this program.”