The Michigan State coach talks about former player Bennie Fowler in the Super Bowl, and the Spartans in the NFL combine. Matt Charboneau
Grand Rapids — Mark Dantonio never thought about taking his team on the road for spring practice, but he admitted Thursday, it’s something he and the rest of college football might have to start contemplating.
Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh plans to take his team to Florida for at least a week of spring practice this year, something that has the folks in the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences all riled up.
Dantonio, however, wasn’t nearly as critical.
“I think it’s creative, there’s no question about that,” Dantonio said before Spartan Winter Tailgate at the JW Marriott Grand Rapids. “From our standpoint, we’ve never thought to do that, but we’re thinking about it nowadays.
“If we want to go to Florida or someplace else, in Texas or something like that, that would be our option to do that, and I guess that’s allowed right now."
Dantonio just wrapped up his best recruiting class a couple of weeks ago, and there are no plans to drastically change the way the Spartans go about recruiting.
And, he warned, there are always pluses and minuses to pushing the envelope.
“There’s always a push-back on that,” Dantonio said. “If you go, there’s always something negative, if we stay there’s probably something negative. There’s always a push-back whatever you do.
“From my perspective we try to worry about what’s going on with our program. I do think it’s important to have a level playing field for all colleges and for all universities. … We worry about who we are and what we do from there.”
So far, the formula has been pretty good for the Spartans.
They are coming off an appearance in the College Football Playoff, and even though Michigan State got rolled by Alabama, it didn’t stop the fans for coming out in full force for Thursday’s annual event.
Dantonio took part in the event for the sixth straight year, and beforehand, he talked about several topics, including former Spartan Bennie Fowler’s Super Bowl championship and the fact that seven Michigan State players will be attending the NFL combine in a couple of weeks.
That matches the most the Spartans have sent, a group that includes quarterback Connor Cook, wide receiver Aaron Burbridge, offensive lineman Jack Allen and Jack Conklin, as well as defensive linemen Shilique Calhoun, Lawrence Thomas and Joel Heath.
“When you look back at the fact that those seven players played on that Rose Bowl team,” Dantonio said, “you can see why we were successful. We had a lot of players that have gone on to play at the next level. I think that is what you have to have if you are going to win the Big Ten championship and play on a national level like we have had.”
Dantonio said he spoke with Fowler before the Super Bowl, one that finished with the former Michigan State receiver catching a two-point conversion pass from Peyton Manning.
What the conversation reminded Dantonio of was, if Michigan State is to get back to the playoffs again, he’ll approach things differently.
“I just basically said what everybody tells me, ‘Enjoy the moment,’ ” Dantonio said. “Sometimes that’s a little harder to do than just saying that, and I think that when I look back at the playoff game, that’s one thing that I don’t think I did. If I had to do it all over again I would make sure I sort of slow everything down, slow the pace down. It’s a little bit more accelerated than a big bowl game. I just wanted him to understand how special this was.”
Dantonio laughed and shook his head when he was asked if he’d gotten over the 38-0 loss yet, adding he’s only watched the television broadcast two more times in recent weeks.
It reminded him, again, to emphasize to future Michigan State teams how hard it is to get to the top of college football.
“I think we were one of the best four teams in the country, I really do,” Dantonio said. “We didn’t play like it that night, but I thought we hung in there. We needed to play better in certain areas and we needed to be at our best. Every single player needed to be at their best.
“I think, more importantly, the thing that I realized now is that it’s a little bit different animal in terms of playing in the playoff game as opposed to lining up in a Big Ten Championship game or even a major bowl game. It’s just different because of the media frenzy that’s there and the demands that are put on you … It’s not a spectacle in a bad way, it’s just the word I would use for it right now. It’s just big, it’s just a big-time atmosphere and you have to be at your best.”
Dantonio had a mixed response when asked if offensive lineman Dennis Finley and cornerback Vayante Copeland would be back for the start of the season. Both are still questionable for spring practice as Finley comes back from a broken leg and Copeland a fractured a vertebrae in his neck.
“I think they’ll be close (for the spring),” Dantonio said. “Maybe participate but not to full extent, but I think they’ll be close or participate at some point in time during the season.”
Copeland started the opener at Western Michigan before getting hurt in the win over Oregon and missing the rest of the season.
“I think some of it, with Vayante, I think there are some different things that they’re getting readings on,” Dantonio said. “But I think Finley (will be ready) for sure.”