Thursday, December 2, 2021

Battle-tested senior class is ready for their final game in the Woodshed

November 24, 2021
<p>Redshirt senior tight end Connor Heyward warms up before the start of the game. The Spartans found a way to hold on against the Hoosiers with a 20-15 win, scraping to their first 7-0 start since 2015 on Oct. 16, 2021.</p>

Redshirt senior tight end Connor Heyward warms up before the start of the game. The Spartans found a way to hold on against the Hoosiers with a 20-15 win, scraping to their first 7-0 start since 2015 on Oct. 16, 2021.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

Saturday marks the end of an up and down regular season for Michigan State football. The Spartans will look to move to 10-2 on the year against Penn State. 

The battle against Penn State will also be the last time that MSU’s senior class will ever play in Spartan Stadium again. Twenty-five players will don the Green and White and play in the Woodshed for the final time of their career if they choose not to use the extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19. 

“This is my last game in Spartan Stadium – in the Woodshed,” graduate student defensive end Drew Beesley said. “And I look forward to savoring every moment that I can on Saturday and I'm sure my fellow seniors feel the same way.”

Beesley is one of 11 graduate seniors that have finished their undergraduate degrees and now have used all of their eligibility regardless of the COVID-19 eligibility along with players like kicker Matt Coghlin and center Matt Allen. They will suit up as college athletes for one last time to try to push the Spartans to 10 wins.

For other seniors like safety Xavier Henderson or tight end Connor Heyward, they have the option to return for another year because of the COVID-19 eligibility rules instituted by the NCAA. However, Heyward confirmed that Saturday will be his last game at Spartan Stadium. 

“I've been in college for five years now — I think it's time for me to move on,” Heyward said. “I think I've done a lot for this program. It's been an amazing roller coaster, the highs and lows, everything, it's just been amazing. And I think I'm ready for that next chapter of my life.”

Heyward’s announcement that he would forgo his remaining eligibility comes on the heels of him accepting an invite to the Senior Bowl, a pre-draft scrimmage for the top seniors in college football. After switching positions late in the fall, Heyward has emerged as a legitimate draft prospect.

He said that he would not have made it this far in his career unless he was pushed by his teammates and offensive coaches like tight end coach Ted Gilmore or running backs coach William Peagler. 

“I'm just glad that they pushed me to be a better football player and a better person,” Heyward said. “And ultimately, I think they've gotten me to this point.”

For others in the graduating class, the NFL might not be on the table after college like it is for Heyward. Beesley said that he wants to pursue a coaching career once he is done playing football.

“I finished with my undergrad in economics last fall and I'm about to finish my grad certificate in sports coaching and leadership,” Beesley said. “I do want to stay around sports after football is done, whether it's coaching high school, college or Pop Warner football. Just some experience with coaching and helping young athletes out; that's something I aspire to do.”

Defensive line coach Ron Burton agreed with Beesley, saying that he and defensive ends Drew Jordan and Jacub Panasiuk have a long career in coaching ahead of them if they choose to pursue it. They are just some of many voices in a deep and experienced senior class that has seen practically everything in their time at MSU.

“I’m sure these guys could probably write a book about their time here at MSU,” Head Coach Mel Tucker said. “I know I certainly can, even just from the past couple of seasons. It’s gonna be a different story, a different narrative, for each guy.”

The sheer amount of obstacles that have stood in the way of MSU’s graduating class has made them a battle-tested group ready to pass their experience to the younger players. 

“This is, I think, the most leaders I've seen on a team," Heyward said. "There are so many guys that can speak up and everybody will listen. And I feel like if I speak up the guys will listen.”

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