Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio on looking for leadership on a young team. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — Since Mark Dantonio arrived at Michigan State before the 2007 season, there have always been four captains.
For the first three seasons, all four were named before the first game and since 2010, three were named before the opener with a rotating fourth game captain named each week.
There will still be four captains in 2017, but only two will be the same every week. Senior offensive lineman Brian Allen and senior linebacker Chris Frey were announced as the team’s captains on Thursday as Michigan State broke preseason camp with the plan to have two game-day captains each week throughout the season.
A close vote and the fact Michigan State has a young roster played into the decision, Dantonio said.
“We’ve usually taken three but the whole idea was we took two this year because in the voting there was so much clarity as to who are those two guys and the rest was sort of shaken up,” Dantonio said. “I really felt like, instead of re-voting and doing those types of things the fair thing to do was let everybody lead from that leadership group. So we’ll have two different guys walking out every game throughout the season and that gives us a sense of leadership from a lot of different people.
“This team has 53 people that are either true freshmen or redshirt freshmen … so it’s an extremely young football team in that respect, and that youth needs to be represented. There are some younger guys on that council and I think that will be important factor in this season.”
That council, of course, is Michigan State’s leadership council that they also call the Eagle council. It’s been around as long as Dantonio has and includes Allen and Frey along with junior LB Andrew Dowell, junior S Matt Morrissey, sophomore QB Brian Lewerke, fifth-year senior RB Gerald Holmes, junior S Khari Willis, sophomore LB Joe Bachie, junior LB Byron Bullough, junior S Grayson Miller, junior TE Matt Sokol and sophomore DT Raequan Williams.
The fact Holmes wasn’t the third captain was a bit of a surprise, but Dantonio, as well as Allen and Frey, made it clear on Thursday that leadership isn’t limited to two players.
“Really our captains are those 12 guys,” Dantonio said. “But really it’s who steps forward and when you’re so young there’s opportunity to do that. I’ve said it before, with so much youth on our football team there is opportunity to lead.
“It allows other guys the opportunity to step into a position of leadership and show that. That’s a very, very good group of 12 guys. They’ll all have an opportunity to be part of that leadership group.”
Wherever leadership comes from, it will be critical this season for Michigan State. Coming off a 3-9 season and a winter full of off-field issues, all agreed on Thursday that having strong leaders is even more critical now.
And the fact that Frey and Allen have both been integral parts of both championship teams and last year’s makes them especially qualified in their role as captain.
“We’ve been through the good and the bad, and I’ve seen how both of those feel and I can tell you the first two years here were a lot better,” Allen said. “To see how those guys led and see how things went last year, I think we’ll be better having gone through that last year and be able to handle adversity this year.”
There’s little doubt the Spartans have worked hard on improving the chemistry that took a hit last season. But with the opener now a little more than a week away, Frey says all the problems now are in the past.
“A lot of things happened, but we don’t think about those things, honestly,” Frey said. “We’re looking forward to the season and want to build off the off-season and not worry about anything that happened last season. The things that happened in the past are in the past, and the guys that aren’t here anymore aren’t part of this team. We’re focusing on the guys that are in this room.”