East Lansing — Considering Michigan State made it through nearly its entire allotment of spring practices without a single update on what was happening on the field, surprises were bound to be prevalent once the Spartans finally took the field.
They did that on Saturday — “stepping into the light,” coach Mark Dantonio called it — and while the cloud of the ongoing sexual assault investigation involving three players that has led to the suspension of staffer Curtis Blackwell continued to linger, it was, at least, a chance to see what has been taking place on the field.
And not surprisingly, there were several eye-opening performances and appearances.
The first clearly was the play of wide receiver Trishton Jackson, who caught eight passes for 168 yards. That was coming off a freshman season when Jackson appeared in nine games and caught five passes for 89 yards and a touchdown.
He not only was the most productive target for sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke, who also provided the best highlight with a one-handed grab late in the game.
“He’s a great football player,” Dantonio said of Jackson. “He can really run, he’s got size, he’s got great hands. He’s got to get tougher, so we can print that. That’s what I’m always telling him, ‘You’ve got to get tougher.’ But he can play. He has a very unique skill set.”
The skill set was developed at West Bloomfield, where Jackson played quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback and as a return specialist.
Jackson did return punts during the spring game, along with Darrell Stewart, and likely will get a chance to do that this fall. Until then, he’ll continue to work on his chemistry with Lewerke.
“The important thing I think is everybody is on the same page,” Dantonio said. “Sometimes out there we were not on the same page, and that makes it very difficult to throw the football. But we’re working toward that. We had a lot of times where we were on the same page and I thought we threw the ball pretty effectively.”
Another eye-opener on offense was the fact redshirt freshman Luke Campbell started at right tackle. The Ohio native drew praise from Dantonio late last season for his work on the scout team and has now “solidified himself at the right offensive tackle.”
Two more interesting moves came on the defensive side as former walk-on Kenny Willekes started at defensive end while true freshman Josiah Scott started at cornerback.
Willekes, a native of Rockford who is entering his sophomore season, had eight tackles in the game, including 1.5 for loss.
“Kenny sort of reminds me a little bit of a Marcus Rush,” Dantonio said. “He’s been playing for us, and this is his third year, so he’s a guy that’s gonna go 100 miles an hour. He’s a good athlete who’s made plays for us.”
Scott has been on campus only a few months after enrolling early in January. His start likely was influenced by the fact Justin Layne has spent much of the spring working on offense while Tyson Smith and Josh Butler both were held out of the spring game for undisclosed reasons.
However, Scott proved he wasn’t in over his head, even recording an interception.
“The guy is diligent,” said Dantonio, who compared Scott to Darqueze Dennard. “He has great attention to detail, he can tackle, he’s tough, he’s got great ball skills, he can run. He’s put himself in a position to start for us right now, as a true freshman, and that’s not easy to do. That’s been a big positive for us.”