MSU's Pendleton plows lanes to open field

Geoff Robinson
The Detroit News

East Lansing — In sports, there are certain positions that don't draw the attention of fans but are just as important in the maintenance of a well-oiled machine.

Occasionally, however, those guys can make fans sit on the edge of their seats.

Drop Michigan State's senior fullback Trevon Pendleton into that realm.

Pendleton is a blocking back, playing a position that seems to be disappearing from football given the game's love affair with spread offenses. But at a place like Michigan State, where toughness and running the ball are as important as breathing, he's a gem that attracts praise from those who know how valuable he is.

"He may not pass the eye test, but you can count on him to go out there and lay his life on the line every week," Spartans quarterback Connor Cook said. "He's been everything to us as a program."

Growing up in Ohio, Pendleton arrived in East Lansing as a walk-on. He passed up scholarships from smaller schools because he wanted to play in the Big Ten.

After earning a scholarship at Michigan State, Pendleton became the quintessential fullback, paving the way for the star running backs while hardly ever being called upon to carry the ball himself.

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Still, when asked to do something other than block, Pendleton has excelled. He scored a 2-yard touchdown in the Rose Bowl two years ago against Stanford.

In October against Michigan, Pendleton came out of the backfield and caught a short pass and reeled off a 74-yard reception to the 1-yard line. Although he came up short of a touchdown, his romp was arguably the second most exciting play of the game — behind Jalen Watts-Jackson's return of a fumbled punt for a touchdown to win the game.

A month later, with the Spartans' Big Ten title hopes on the line, Pendleton came up big again.

He caught a touchdown pass from Tyler O'Connor with Michigan State trailing in the second quarter at Ohio State. The score — Pendleton stretched for the goal line while going out of bounds — helped catapult Michigan State to the upset and into the College Football Playoff.

"He always has a knack for popping off at the right time," co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. "He understands his role and patiently waits for opportunities, and there might be one in this game coming up."

Despite the accomplishments and praise of those around him, Pendleton still has trouble wrapping his head around how far he has come.

"I always felt in my heart that I could be playing on the big stage, but to actually go out there and have as many eyes on us as we do is a true blessing and something I'm very thankful for," Pendleton said. "There's been opportunities, and I've been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time."

With one — possibly two big games on the horizon — Pendleton isn't worried about making the splashy play. He just wants to do his job.

"I like throwing the block and getting our running backs into the end zone," he said. "All I care about is holding that national championship trophy at the end of it all."

Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer.

Cotton Bowl

Alabama vs. Michigan State

Kickoff: 8 p.m. Dec. 31, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV/radio: ESPN/WJR

Records: No. 2 Alabama 12-1, No. 3 Michigan State 12-1

Line: Alabama by 10

Series: Alabama leads 1-0