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Spartans are what transfer Williams thought they were

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — After four seasons at Nebraska, Kevin Williams had a pretty good idea of what it was like to play at Michigan State.

While with the Cornhuskers, Williams said the week in preparation for the Spartans was simple — it was going to be physical.

And now that the graduate transfer has joined the Spartans for his final season, has the perception changed?

“The perception from the outside is pretty much the reality,” the defensive tackle said this week. “They are tough and that’s what we’re about. That was what we always expected come game week (at Nebraska); come Michigan State week. We knew it would be a grind up front, it was gonna be physical, they were gonna pound the rock.

“You were gonna have to come with it. Coach Bo Pelini would always say the game would be won up front, on the offensive line and defensive line, in the trenches. That’s what it is here.”

It’s exactly what Williams was looking for when he was deciding where to play his final season. Hampered by injuries in his four years at Nebraska, Williams played in 23 games with four starts, all while missing the entire 2013 season.

But he had a year left, and the Spartans had needs in the middle of the defensive line. It made a nearly perfect fit for the 6-foot-2, 281-pound run stopper.

“They were a team I always knew I wanted to play for,” Williams said of Michigan State. “Even coming out of high school it was between them and Nebraska.”

He opted, of course, for Nebraska when he left Springfield (Ohio) High School, but the battles he did have with Michigan State stuck with him.

“We came off the field like, ‘You gotta come with it,’ ” Williams said. “Every time we played them the last five years we’d come off the field and be like, ‘That was a real team right there.’ ”

Now he’s a part of that team, and the Spartans are hoping Williams can be a spark in the middle of the defensive line playing next to preseason All-American Malik McDowell.

“Explosive, powerful, he has good technique,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said of Williams. “I think he is going to play for us. I was impressed with him.”

Of course, on a team as deep as Michigan State’s, nothing his guaranteed.

While the experience up front is thin, there is plenty of talent. Williams will likely be pushed the most by redshirt freshman Raequan Williams, the 6-4, 300-pounder that has been drawing rave reviews throughout preseason camp.

“What we've seen from Raequan is the ability to move, the ability to understand the defense,” defensive line coach Ron Burton said. “His motor is what we see right now, and he's improving in the fundamentals.”

After both Williams, there are others knocking at the door, including sophomore Gerald Owens and true freshman Mike Panasiuk.

But Kevin Williams has something most of them don’t — experience.

He’s adjusting to the new terminology at Michigan State, but it helps that he played in a similar system at Nebraska. But along with end Gabe Sherrod, another graduate transfer, he is proving knowledge of the game helps.

“Experience is the true teacher,” Burton said, “and these young men have had experience and the maturity level is high. We can learn from that and take advantage of that.”

In the meantime, as the defensive line battle continues, Williams is adjusting to life on a bigger campus and bonding with his new teammates.

The finish of last season’s Nebraska-Michigan State game comes up often, the only loss in the regular season for the Spartans, one that came on a controversial call at the end of the game.

“They’re always asking and say, ‘You know that was BS, right?’ ” Williams said with a laugh. “I say, ‘Yeah, we might have got away with one.’ But we took it. We got away with it.”

If Williams proves to the run-stuffer the Spartans are hoping for this season, they’ll probably let that one slide.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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