Big Ten Meetings: Dantonio Verbatim

Big Ten Meetings: Dantonio Verbatim

This is the tenth anniversary actually of the 10-2 team that finished seventh in the nation. Beat Florida in the Citrus Bowl in 1999, and I think it's important to recognize that a lot of our players have come back to be a part of that program.

CHICAGO - First of all, it's my third time here, so we're coming off two bowl games the last two years. As we move forward, we're very, very excited about the 2009 season.

You know, going back and looking at last year a little bit, coming off a 9 and 4 season, the things that we stress to our players constantly on a consistent basis, the positives, I guess, is that as we went through the season, we were a top 25 team pretty much throughout the season once we had gotten into the Big Ten Conference, ended up No. 24.

We were 9 and 2 going into our last game, had an opportunity to play for a championship the last game even though it was a co-championship. We made strides and showed some consistency in being able to move in that direction.

Made it to a New Year's Day bowl game, which I thought was very critical. I remember sitting here last year, and a lot of you asked what would be Michigan State's goals? I remember mentioning that, and people gave me a little bit of a look. But you know, we made it there.

The thing that I think we have to continue to do is consistently recruit. We have returning starters back. We have an outstanding freshman class, and I think the thing to remember in terms of where we're at as a program right now is we have 32 upperclassmen right now in our roster, only 13 juniors, 19 scholarship seniors, and 53 underclassmen. So we are a relatively young football team. I think that that bodes well for the future.

The success that we've had, I think, is a direct result of three things. One, we've got stability. When I talk about stability, I talk about not just the coaching staff. We've not lost coaches; we've maintained our staff. In some cases, I've been a head coach for six years, and I would say two thirds to three quarters of our staff has been with us as a group for six entire years. We have not lost one coach on our defensive staff.

What that gives us is an opportunity to critique rather than really reinvent things and have to have our players re-learn because we have a different coordinator. We've maintained both coordinators, so our terminology and the things that we do has been consistent.

I think the other thing, when I look at stability, we've had very low attrition in terms of the players that we've had. We have not lost many players. We've been able to keep those players in the program, and because of that, they continue to grow and mature not just as football players, but also as students and also as people, which are our goals.

The second thing I would point to are our resources, the Bob Skandelaris Center opened last July 24th, and we've had so many things happen in terms of just the facility part of who we are as a program right now. We have outstanding leadership. Mark Hollis, our athletic director, is a lifelong Spartan; as is our president, Lou Anna Simon; as is one of our board of trustees members, George Perles; as is our president of the trustees, Joel Ferguson.

All of those people show us consistency in terms of where we're going. I said when I first got the job I thought it was very, very important that we all go in one direction as a program. We've been able to do that, and our fan support obviously is very, very good, as well.

We've all gone in the same direction, which is key for our success. The third thing I think that we point to in terms of why we've been able to be successful is our tradition. We've had great players come through. This is the tenth anniversary actually of the 10-2 team that finished seventh in the nation.

Beat Florida in the Citrus Bowl in 1999, and I think it's important to recognize that a lot of our players have come back to be a part of that program.

The people that have come back to be honorary captains, the people that -- the former players that really have reached out to our players, our current players, make a definite impact on them in terms of what they have to uphold and the things they have to do.

So those three things I think are critical to our success. Our concerns naturally would be, I guess, our quarterback situation I think is very strong, but it's inexperienced. Kirk Cousins had some limited experience last year. We played him in the bowl game by design to put pressure on him in those situations. He's played against some other teams throughout the year, but his experience is limited.

Keith Nichol is another young player.

Both are sophomores. While that is a concern, the thing that I point to constantly when talking to our staff and really to those two quarterbacks in general is they're only sophomores, so they have really a lot of room to grow as players. They're outstanding athletes. They're outstanding players already. Both of them performed very, very well in the spring, particularly in the spring game, and it'll be interesting to watch as they continue on.

We also have another quarterback, Andrew Maxwell, who is on campus now and is showing some great things, as well. But we lost star power in losing Javon Ringer. I think that's obvious, great player, great person, great leader for us. So we'll have to fill that void.

Senior leadership will be key. It always is. I think one of the reasons that we've been able to go to these two Bowl games the last two years is because our seniors had their best years ever.

I think when they do that, you have a chance of accomplishing something very, very special. So our seniors this year will have to respond.

You know, they picked us third this year, I guess, sports writers. I think it's very, very important to recognize that we've been in this situation before at times where the Spartans have sort of raised up a little bit on very high expectations and fell a little bit flat.

We've won very, very few games just going away. Our program is such that we've been involved in a lot of close games, a lot of close games. So we'll play game to game, one at a time, that old cliché. I do think we have an opportunity to win every game that we play. We always have. And that will remain true.

Goals for us, then I'll take some questions, basically is to play up, win our last game. We've gone to the bowl games. We need to win our last game, which would hopefully be a bowl game this year. We need to play well and win our last game against Penn State. We need to play up when we play these marquee games where more than just winning and losing is riding on that.

A little bit more of the national attention may be riding on it, whether it be the Penn State game the last game or the Ohio State game.

We need to continue to mature as a program, and again, as I mentioned before, it's not just about football. It's got to be about how we handle ourselves as students and how we handle ourselves as people, and hopefully our players understand that and will continue to move in that direction.

And finally, our goal, as every year goes on, is to be Big Ten champs. I think if you come to Chicago, you sit in front of your teams and you don't have that goal and really believe it, then you're selling your players short.

So our goals will be a Big Ten Championship, a BCS game, and we'll move from there. We'll hope to continue with our consistency. Good things are happening, and I'm very, very excited about this year.

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