Michigan State football’s matchup with Indiana already has a deeper meaning behind it. In addition to granting bowl eligibility should MSU come away with the win, Saturday’s game will also serve as senior day for the Spartans.
The graduating class has certainly been through more than they bargained for when they signed as recruits. They’ve had their share of ups and downs such as coaching changes as well as the COVID-19 pandemic that forced changes to day-to-day football operations.
Now, as their time as players comes to an end, the team is preparing to send them off in the best way they can.
“It’ll be a good wrap on their career, last one here,” redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne said. “We’re looking to send them out the right way so we gotta prepare this week in a good way in order to do that and then have a good time with these guys on Saturday.”
Despite having one year of eligibility left, redshirt senior linebacker Ben VanSumeren will be one of the players honored Saturday, having made the decision a few weeks ago that this season will be his last.
Although he’s aware the pregame honors sometimes become emotional, preparation for the matchup remains the same.
“We’re really just focused on the game this week,” VanSumeren said. “The approach this week is really the same it is every week but I’ll have my parents down here and they’ll go through the process we have planned for that. It’s really just like every other game. It hasn’t really sunk in yet that my time playing here is gonna be coming to an end soon. I’m grateful regardless.”
The transfer from Michigan has played a key role for the Spartan defense over the last two seasons, starting in every game he’s played in 2022. However, he believes he hit a breakthrough this season.
“This last year has probably been my biggest year of growth, both mentally and as a player,” VanSumeren said. “I think I made my biggest jump this year as a player for sure but also just getting my mind right and learning from some of the things I had to go through while I was in college. It really was a great experience. I wouldn’t trade any of it.”
For redshirt senior running back Elijah Collins, it’s crazy how fast the time has gone by.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Collins said. “I kind of remember the first day that I came on visit and I was standing up here and there was a podium right here and I just remember thinking about all the possible chances after games speaking and stuff like that and now those moments happened and it’s like it's coming to an end. What a great ride it’s been, just enjoyed the whole thing.”
Having been a player and a coach, running backs coach Effrem Reed understands the emotions of senior day more than anyone. He’ll be right by his side on Saturday even though it will be hard knowing Collins, a player he's coached since joining the staff in 2020, will be graduating from the program.
“I know Eli (Collins) means the world to Spartan nation,” Reed said. “He’s a great kid and he loves this program through and through and it’s gonna be hard for everyone to see him go because you know what he’s been through, you know what he’s done for the program and the type of kid he is.”
Despite the emotions that come with playing at home in front of fans for the last time, the Spartans are locked in on the Hoosiers and continuing their "one game mindset." With two games left on the schedule and a 5-5 record, they are currently in the hunt for bowl eligibility. A win over either Indiana or Penn State would automatically qualify MSU for a bowl game.
Kickoff from Spartan Stadium for the last time this season is set for 12 p.m. on Saturday on the Big Ten Network.
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