Leaving a pregnant wife behind isn’t often a wise move, but for former Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, it had to be done.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” Jones said, “but my wife (former MSU basketball player Mandy Piechowski) is pregnant and I didn’t know if I wanted to leave, but I’m happy she let me go. I’m happy to be here.”
Jones was among the former Spartans in Pasadena to see them take down Stanford 24-20 for the first Rose Bowl win – and appearance – in 26 years.
He also was among the first recruits to commit to Mark Dantonio when he arrived in 2007.
“For a lot of us that were there at the beginning when times were tough, when Coach D first got here in 2007 and things weren’t as pretty as they are right now,” he said, “it’s truly tremendous for the things they’ve done and he’s remained the same guy year after year after year.”
Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was another one of those recruits that jumped on board with the Spartans then and came close to a Rose Bowl berth in 2011. He said seeing the team at this level now has been gratifying.
“Coach Dantonio has built this program the right way,” he said. “Obviously, the coaching staff has continuity from when I was here. They have a lot of character, a lot of heart. 13 wins, that says it all. That’s a lot of victories. … I was very grateful to have a front row seat to watch it happen.”
The goal of the Rose Bowl was set back then when Dantonio took over the Michigan State program. Otis Wiley was a safety on that team and said the team noticed his national title ring and wanted to get one of their own, setting this in motion.
“It’s been a great time knowing that starting in 2007, I was on that team and knowing that they are carrying the torch so well,” he said. “They’ve been holding this program to a high standard and I’m proud of Coach D.”
Former linebacker Brandon Denson already was at Michigan State when Dantonio arrived and he said the transition from John L. Smith to Mark Dantonio brought a difference in foundation.
”With him and his coaching staff, they brought in a foundation and we helped build in and now you are seeing it in full effect seven years later,” he said. “This is what we wanted and we got it. Since Coach D first got to Michigan State, this was one of our goals. For the Big Ten, we always wanted to go the Rose Bowl, that’s the national championship for us. It’s just great to be down here and experience the situation.”
While many players who were around in the earlier years of Dantonio’s tenure attended Wednesday’s game, it also brought some recent alumni of the program back. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell was in the locker room following the game said joked part of him wishes he came back for his senior season.
“I really wish I was on the field playing with them, but the fact that I did put my blood, sweat and tears on the field, and helped the program get to where it is right, it means the world,” he said. “I’m just glad that when we got here, we didn’t just get here, that wasn’t enough for the Spartans. We got here and actually won the game. That really showed that this team is on the rise.
”We are on the road to being an elite program.”