MSU’s Brian Lewerke emboldened by Dantonio’s backing

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke was 31-of-57 for 381 yards, including two touchdowns and one interception, last season.

East Lansing — When Brian Lewerke fell to the turf last October, his leg broken after a hit from Jabrill Peppers in a loss to Michigan, he knew he was done for the season.

The crack he heard and the fact he couldn’t put any pressure on the leg made it clear: The progress he’d made in his redshirt freshman season would come to an end that day.

It was a frustrating moment, to be sure, for the young quarterback. In a season full of frustration for Michigan State, Lewerke was beginning to emerge as one of the few bright spots for the Spartans. He had started two games and when he came on in relief against the Wolverines, he had the offense rolling for the first time all game, and put the Spartans in a position to at least have a shot at a comeback.

Instead, he took the hit as he scrambled and that was it.

“In the Northwestern game I think I was getting out of the pocket too quickly,” Lewerke said of his first start two weeks earlier. “I think I improved on that in the Maryland game and then was able to come in for the Michigan game and was able to make a good amount of play. It was unfortunate at the end I got hurt, so I think I was on the right track to improve my game, so it was unfortunate.”

Unfortunate because Michigan State still had four games to play, and while it might still have been a longshot, getting to a bowl game was still a possibility. On top of that, four more starts could have put Lewerke in an even better position headed into 2017.

Even without that time, however, there’s no doubt who Michigan State’s quarterback is headed into this fall. Coach Mark Dantonio said it at the end of last season and again this spring — Lewerke is “the guy.”

“It definitely put confidence in me,” Lewerke said of Dantonio tabbing him the starter. “He had told me in a meeting just with him that I was the guy. For him to come out publicly and say that was very big for my confidence going into this year.”

That confidence has already been seen from his teammates.

“He came into spring as confidence as ever, like he had never missed a down,” safety Grayson Miller said. “It was impressive to me that he came in with that kind of charisma.”

Impressive considering he did spend the last four games of the season on crutches. However, none of that deterred him during his rehab and by the time spring practice began, he was 100 percent.

He has spent plenty of time working with a young receiving corps and through a winter full of conditioning and spring practice, Lewerke has also emerged as a leader for a team that was lacking in that category a season ago.

“He has trust in all the guys and faith in all of them, where he can approach them now, when in the past, if you were to approach some kids, it wouldn’t be as easy,” senior offensive lineman Brian Allen said. “Some kids wouldn’t accept what the truth was, and I think people listen to him and know he’s right most of the time.

“I think that just makes them want to go to battle for him more.”

Lewerke has sensed that and he believes being named the starter so far in advance of the season helps.

“I think guys look up to you a lot more now that they know this is the guy the coaches want in there,” Lewerke said. “I think it helps them form a relationship around the guy.”

That belief in the guy running the offense could be a huge factor this season for a team that will be young in many places and will be trying to bounce back from a confidence-crushing 3-9 season, something that hasn’t happened under Dantonio.

But that alone won’t get Michigan State back among the contenders in the Big Ten East. The Spartans will need Lewerke to be effective and continue the progress that was seen last season when he completed 54.4 percent of his passes and threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns.

The time he did get last season – along with a spring game where he threw for more than 300 yards – will be invaluable, Lewerke said, in having him prepared for 2017.

“Getting those couple of starts underneath my belt, getting rocked a couple of times, I think it was big to get those underneath my belt,” Lewerke said, “make sure I don't have those type of jitters coming into this year.”

He’ll continue to work with his receivers over the summer in advance of the opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 2. His connection with sophomore Trishton Jackson already looks like it could be a special one as Jackson had eight catches for 168 yards.

“He was awesome in the spring,” Lewerke said of Jackson. “His routes were very crisp and he can get open with good coverage on him, so I feel good about that.”

Even with plenty of questions heading into the season, it appears the Spartans feel just as good about Lewerke. Following a year of instability at quarterback, he’ll be the guy to change that.

“I think it takes a little bit of time,” Lewerke said, “but I think we're on the right track.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau