As the weeks pass by and the losses pile up in Michigan State's disappointing year, it's been easy for fans to turn their attention to the future of next season.
But, part of the future is beginning to make an impact now.
Twelve true freshman have seen action for the Spartans this season, and in recent games, numerous true freshmen on the offensive side of the ball have had a chance to state their case for a starting spot next season. Offensive linemen Nick Samac and J.D. Duplain, have made as much of an impact as any of them.
Duplain, at left guard, and Samac at center, have started in Michigan State's last two games — including the Spartans' 44-10 loss to Michigan last Saturday. They've given MSU fans a glimpse of what parts of the future offensive line may look like.
“Those guys have done really outstanding for being true freshman in a game like that last week," Michigan State Offensive Coordinator Brad Salem said following Tuesday's practice. "You look out there on Saturday you see (Devontae) Dobbs in there too and got three right next to each other. There’s valued reps in it, it’s impressive what they’re physically able to do. It's just understanding — I think the reality of it comes back to them too when it's real. When they see it on film it's, ‘OK, that’s what we are working for, talking about.’ The things that they know a little bit more of what they need to push for. But they’ve done a great job.”
Duplain and Samac were two of four offensive linemen in Michigan State's 2019 recruiting class — joined by Spencer Brown and Damon Kaylor — that enrolled early and participated in spring practices before the season. And each believe that extra couple of months of experience has accelerated their progress.
“I've developed a lot each week," Duplain said. "I'm confident in myself when I'm out there. All of the older guys say they’re confident in me. They've been helping me a lot.”
Duplain — a six foot, three inch, 289 pound guard from Strongsville, Ohio — practiced on the defensive line when he first came to East Lansing, but soon after, transitioned back to the offensive side of the ball when MSU's coaching staff noticed his potential.
“They just said they liked how I played," he said. "They loved my attitude towards football and they just said, 'Keep pushing, keep pushing and you're gonna have opportunities.'"
Samac — a six foot, four inch, 294 pound center from Mentor, Ohio — took over for Matt Allen when he went down with an injury late in MSU's loss to Penn State.
“I feel I'm doing pretty good. There's a lot of things I got to correct," he said. "I'm not nearly playing up to what I could. Obviously I'm going as hard as I can every day and playing as hard as I can, but obviously there is a lot to work on, there is a lot I can correct to be a better offensive lineman all around.”
The past two weeks have exposed to the duo what they need to work on during the final stretch of this season. Samac said the biggest learning curve for him has been the speed of the game.
"Obviously, you expect that going into it, but it really is a change," he said "I think I'm settling into it now but you can definitely tell the difference in the speed.”
With two games left this season, Duplain has burned his redshirt year, already having played in seven games. Samac has played more sparingly, but is right up against the threshold, where one more game will burn his.
That price comes at the cost of acquiring more in-game experience — something that not only will benefit the Spartans now, but also heading into next season as well.
"Two years from now, what kind of offensive line are we going to have? Should be pretty good," Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio said. "Those guys are very good athletes, good players, but they're young. You have to take that into consideration."