Bob Wojnowski and Chris Howard break down the history of the rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State. Later, Nick Hill and Matt Charboneau talk about the Spartans aiming for a 9-3 record. Detroit News
East Lansing — Considering he has two football games remaining before he heads off to wherever, it seemed fitting Tuesday night to ask Chris Frey about the future.
About his major at Michigan State, which is advertising.
And that would prepare a senior linebacker for exactly what dreamy post-college job?
“I have no idea, to be honest with you,” Frey said, a green Nike bandana wrapped around his head and a football jersey, bearing No. 23, rolled halfway up his front as he took an after-practice break inside MSU’s indoor football arena.
Frey was half-laughing as he talked about his vocational plans. That’s because, for now, they have little to do with advertising or any other 9-to-5 endeavor.
“I have dreams of playing in the NFL,” he said. “And I’ve thought about coaching possibly as a GA (graduate assistant). I don’t know if I’m ready to put the game behind me.”
Frey is one of those rare seniors on coach Mark Dantonio’s teams. He is one of the team’s few graybeards, although in Frey’s case, he’s more of a brown-beard with bushy whiskers that cascade from his chin.
It was on Frey and a handful of seniors-to-be that so much rested a year ago when Dantonio began his reassembly of a Spartans team that finished 2016 with a 3-9 record and with its competitive psyche in an ashcan.
The Spartans had gone from college football’s Final Four to a sofa seat for last year’s bowl season. Frey and his mates were adjusting to something not many of them had before known, not in football.
“It definitely was weird,” Frey said. “We had never really felt this way before. It hurt us as a team. But it helped us for this year. It’s not normal for us to be in that situation.”
Well, no. Frey, 22, came to Michigan State in 2014 from Upper Arlington High in Columbus, Ohio, an address that implies he might have chosen the Spartans over a local team known as the Buckeyes
But no. He was lightly recruited, by tall-timber standards, with Purdue, Boston College and Kentucky joining MSU alongside most Mid-American Conference teams. And when he got here as one of those typical Dantonio recruits armed with more upside than press clippings, he hit the modern Spartan football heyday.
Double-digit victories during the regular season. A crazy bowl-game knockoff of Baylor. That trip to Dallas a year later for the playoff semifinals against Alabama.
And then last season’s wall-crash.
He soon got busy with senior chores. Revving up MSU’s kid players. Attacking the weight room as if it were Normandy’s beach. Pounding a revival ethic into his mind as he and his sprinkling of senior allies began an all-out assault in a bid to turn 2016’s trauma into a football year more in step with Dantonio’s and MSU’s style.
Now the Spartans are 8-3 heading for Rutgers and a 4 p.m. game Saturday that could flip-flop those 3-9 digits from a year ago.
“It’s really nice,” he said, turning to something said Tuesday by MSU co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel. “Coach Tressel said, ‘This will be your last game for a month.’
“Last year, our last game wasn’t for nine months.”
Frey’s part in this has been a matter of duality. He brings senior savvy. And on a team that makes defense its Saturday persona, Frey’s linebacker labors at the outside SAM post have been industrial-strength.
He was the indispensable man early this autumn. Pick the face of MSU’s uprising and it could well have been Frey’s. He is playing a bit less late in the autumn as the Spartans, with an eye toward 2018 and with appreciation or some of the young-blood talent on this squad, more steadily work into the fray tender linebackers Antjuan Simmons and Tyriq Thompson.
Up-tempo offenses are part of the story, of course. Sixty, seventh plays a game – if you’re not substituting on defense at high throttle you can prepare for a lot of scoreboard flickering.
But neither can the kids hold up minus coaches — and seniors — settling them, teaching them to trust themselves, their talents, and their training.
“You try to do as much as you can,” Frey said, not disagreeing with notions he has become as much mentor as player in these waning weeks. “Players who have been here four, five years, you learn so much from those guys.”
If this is but a first stage of playing the role of football professor on his way to a coaching job, Frey’s ready. He’ll have that degree nailed down. But he has other ideas about careerism. Football as a player. Football as a coach. He’ll dance with either invitation, whenever.
Michigan State at Rutgers
Kickoff: 4 Saturday, High Points Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.
Records: Michigan State 8-3, 6-2 Big Ten; Rutgers 4-7, 3-5
Line: Michigan State by 16