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East Lansing — The fans were lined around the concourse at Spartan Stadium on Tuesday night, and the first home game is still more than three weeks away.

While it wasn’t quite a football Saturday in East Lansing, it came close as an estimated 17,000 showed up for the 13th annual Meet the Spartans. Coach Mark Dantonio spent two hours signing autographs while the offensive players spent the first hour doing the same and the defensive player handled the second hour.

“It’s a kickoff to the season and all the hype building up,” said Hudsonville’s Jade Rossback, who attended with his sons and their friend. “For the kids, especially, because this is the closest they can get to the players without their helmets on and get their autographs. For us, it’s a tradition to get the schedule and get the autographs, get it framed, put it up over the old ones. That’s something we look at and next year, put the next layer up.”

Rossback and his sons Nolan, 14, and Landon, 11, have been coming to the event for four years, and it was clear which autograph they were after.

“They all wanted Connor Cook,” Jade Rossback said. “The first table we went to was at section 25, and we were hoping Connor would come out. Sure enough, he came out, so they were going nuts and they were super-excited.”

Cook’s line snaked well around the concourse, and that’s where a group of friends from Dearborn were comparing autographs.

“This is sick,” said Joe Rinke, 15.

He and his friends — Liam Coleman, 15, and brothers Brad Varady, 16, and Vinnie Varady, 14 — were on hand to see their favorite Spartans. It turns out the line for Cook was a bit too long, but that didn’t stop them from talking about Michigan State’s chances to bring back a national championship.

“I’m gonna say no,” Brad Varady said. “Unless they beat Ohio State.”

His opinion was not shared by Coleman.

“One hundred percent,” he said when asked if the Spartans were worthy of the national title.

Not far around the corner, the biggest line was saved for Dantonio, who is tasked with getting Michigan State back on top of the Big Ten. His line wound well around an entrance on the north end of the stadium.

Also along the concourse were places fans could take photos wearing Michigan State gear and could also go on the field or tour the press box. The Spartan Sports Network was also on hand, giving fans a chance to describe classic Michigan State plays.

It was enough to get the blood pumping for Rossback and his boys as they look forward to more Michigan State football and less news about rival Michigan.

“I’ve been over that for months now,” Rossback said of new coach Jim Harbaugh. “I’m tired of all the hype. They haven’t even been on the field and their spring game was a lame duck. ... There’s no respect for Dantonio and these guys.

“I like the fact that they have that chip on their shoulder. ... Keep putting that chip on there because that’s what’s worked for them around here.”