Chicago — Whether Jon Reschke is physically ready to play football this season at Michigan State remains to be seen, but that he’ll have the opportunity is a significant shift from a little more than a year ago.
The linebacker announced in February of 2017 that he was leaving the Spartans program and seeking a transfer for his final season of eligibility after making what he called “an insensitive and totally regrettable comment involving a former teammate.”
On Tuesday, coach Mark Dantonio confirmed Reschke is back with the Michigan State football team despite the racial slur Reschke used that led to his initial departure from the team.
“Right now he's on the roster, but it's a step-by-step process,” Dantonio said. “The first step was for him to be able to complete what we call our bottom-line program, which has been completed. Next step will be does he come to camp or not? But at this point in time, all indications from my players is that they want him in camp.
“And I'll try and honor our football team and see what we can do. But that's the process. Step-by-step process.”
It’s a process that seemed far-fetched when Reschke left the program following the Spartans’ 3-9 collapse in 2016. It came amidst plenty of off-field turmoil for the program as it was also revealed then that four players were being investigated for sexual assault. Those players — Josh King, Donnie Corley, Demetric Vance and Auston Robertson — were all eventually dismissed from the team.
Mark Dantonio excerpts: MSU coach talkes Scott, Reschke, Lewerke, more
Reschke, meanwhile, was seemingly done in East Lansing after making the racially insensitive remark. However, he never did transfer and eventually earned his degree from Michigan State. This spring, there appeared to be an opening for Reschke’s return when Dantonio said the matter had been discussed with the team and that he would leave it up to the players to decide whether to welcome back Reschke.
The players were open to the idea, and Dantonio allowed Reschke to join the team for conditioning, regularly checking with the leadership group on whether they were still on board.
“I thought that people need to heal, quite honestly, and our team needs to heal and that’s happened,” Dantonio said. “It’s been an ongoing process. I think we visited this thing in the spring so this is not a new topic, this is something our players have dealt with and been talking about and making decisions on. There’s a lot of reasons behind it, as much as anything, from his standpoint I want him to be able to finish what he started. I want him to see himself through a difficult situation and come out the other end. I don’t think he wants to end his career in that way. His family is going through some things health-wise that I think it would be a positive thing for them to see him play near home.
“For our football team and our players — they weighed in. especially our black athletes, our African-American players. They weighed in on it. At any time, the most important thing to me is to have great chemistry on our football team and I think that’s the thing everybody needs to understand. We have great chemistry on our football team. I can’t allow anything in there that’s gonna create a division and so I’ve asked them over and over and over and they see no problems with that. Everybody interacts together and if there is a problem I’ll deal with the problem, remedy the problem. As of right now I’m trying to allow the process to take place and … forgiveness is power. He’s asked for forgiveness and the players have given him that.”
Senior safety Khari Willis said that forgiveness has, indeed, been granted by the entire team after meetings first among the team's black players and then the team as a whole.
"I feel that we move forward," Willis said. "We put it behind us. I’ve forgiven him long before he talked to me personally multiple times and I tell him, ‘I got you. I understand. You’re my brother through thick and thin. Whatever I can do to help.’ "
It was the same for senior running back LJ Scott. He said he didn't, at first, believe Reschke would say anything insensitive. But Scott said it was made "in the heat of the moment. He made a mistake and he was mad. He apologized very much and would do anything to come back to this team and we would do anything to let him come back to this team."
What role Reschke will have is uncertain in a linebacker group that has plenty of talent and depth.
What is certain is that he’ll do so without a scholarship.
“He's not on scholarship, nor will he be on scholarship,” Dantonio said. “And I think that's a big thing. He paid an ultimate price by being out of football for a year. And he's lost his scholarship.”
Reschke, who came to Michigan State in 2013, has applied for and been granted a sixth season of eligibility, school officials confirmed. He also suffered a knee injury that could limit him.
“I haven’t seen him play football,” Dantonio said. “I’ve seen him move around a little bit. He’s moved around fine so we’ll see. That’s a secondary issue.”
In 24 career games, Reschke has 101 tackles, including 6.5 for loss.
He came to Michigan State as a four-star recruit and redshirted his freshman season in 2013 as he battled injuries playing middle linebacker. He played eight games in 2014 and made the move to the outside in 2015, starting all 14 games on the strong side while collecting 75 tackles as the Spartans reached the College Football Playoffs. Reschke injured his ankle in Week 3 of 2016 against Wisconsin and missed the rest of the season.
Now, he’s looking for one more chance.
“I'll ultimately have to make decisions,” Dantonio said. “But I have individuals that I'm concerned about. I'm concerned about people's families. I'm concerned about how they live their life. Jon Reschke makes the decision he wants to come back, he's trying to look things in the eye and ask for forgiveness.
“I think it's a learning opportunity for our football team and it's an opportunity for growth as people and as a society. So that's what we're going to do, and we're going to see what happens.”