East Lansing — Michigan State senior running back Gerald Holmes is making sure his voice his heard.
As the Spartans look to bounce back from a dismal 3-9 season, their shortcomings weren’t due to a lack of talent. It was a lack of leadership.
And Holmes vows that won’t be an issue again.
“As bad as last year was, it definitely helps now because it was still lesson at the end of day,” Holmes said. “It’s not a lesson that we all asked for, but we got the lesson. I feel like our locker room learned from it and we’re making the changes.”
Holmes said the goal is to be a more player-led team across the board. In years past, Holmes said he would sit down with another player in the locker room one-on-one and offer him encouragement. Now, he’s taken it upon himself to stand up and speak up in front of the entire team.
And Holmes has been relaying a simple message: Any day can be your last, so you better give it your best.
“You don’t want to repeat those things that we went through in the past,” Holmes said. “I’m preaching more about it’s my senior year and other years that’s kind of what we did — do it for the seniors. But I feel like it’s more about it’s everybody’s year. Every year is your senior year is how I look at it.”
Senior linebacker Chris Frey said the leadership last season wasn’t as strong as it should’ve been, but this year more players have been coming to the forefront and establishing themselves.
“Our leadership has just gotten so much better throughout this whole entire offseason,” Frey said. “I think we’ve voted maybe four or five times throughout the spring and winter and every single time there’s a new leader. It goes to show that we have so many leaders on this team and so many different guys that guys look up to.
“The leadership on this team is definitely changing and we got a lot of guys that are stepping up as leaders. To go with that, the team chemistry in general is changing.”
But it’s not just 12 seniors leading by example. According to coach Mark Dantonio, sophomore linebacker Joe Bachie is an example of one of the younger players who has taken great strides.
“There’s no question we don’t have a senior-laden team. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s not so good so we’ll find out,” Dantonio said. “I think it gives other people an opportunity to grow in their leadership…I look back to 2009 when Kirk Cousins was a captain as a redshirt sophomore and you see what he did with that. There’s got to be an opportunity and sometimes you need a little bit of space up there to have that opportunity.”
The one position that hasn’t been hit hard by attrition is running back. With juniors L.J. Scott and Madre London back along with Holmes, the Spartans return plenty of experience and options in the backfield.
Scott shouldered the load last season, rushing for 994 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games. Holmes added 431 yards rushing and five scores in 12 games, and London ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games. All three averaged at least 4.3 yards per carry.
While the trio once again will be competing for carries, Holmes said they don’t overwhelm themselves with who is playing, but rather focus on making one another better.
“Our situation, we’re all great tailbacks, all next-level guys for the most part, so when it’s that close you can’t really get upset about certain things because it’s not really in your control,” Holmes said. “You just do your part and we have fun doing it. …We’re brothers, we’re grinding and when our name is called each person will deliver.”
Dantonio said there won’t be any changes to how the football team elects its captains by player vote.
“I think it’s just my feeling that our players, our captains have to lead our players and they should be player picked so we’ll do that,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of things, unique things I think in that area to try and put a spotlight on what does your teammate think about you as a person, as a player, as a student, so we’re going to continue to do.”
…Fifth-year senior quarterback Damion Terry said his first career start against Penn State in last season’s finale was a confidence boost for 2017 despite exiting early following a hit to the head.
“Being able to start and prepare like the night before and everything, that was just a great feeling for me,” Terry said. “I thought I played good … but coming out, that was hard. You guys probably saw it, I was balling my eyes out. Home state, I had so many people there but I mean, you just got to bounce back. You’ve been dealt a tough hand but it’ll be all right.”