Baringer gets chance to get leg up in crowded MSU punting mix

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — When Bryce Baringer sat in his apartment the night of Sept. 8 watching Michigan State take on Arizona State, he had no idea the next time the Spartans would take the field that he’d be joining them.

However, when fifth-year senior punter Jake Hartbarger was hit in the shin of his right kicking leg and crumpled to the ground, Baringer knew things could change quickly.

Quarterback-turned-punter Rocky Lombardi kicks from the end zone under the watchful eyes of head coach Mark Dantonio before Michigan State plays at Indiana  last Saturday. Lombardi is one of four players, including Bryce Baringer, vying for full-time punting duties.

“I saw the rusher land on him funky and I see his leg, and right when I saw that happen I’m like, ‘Oh no,’” Baringer said. “I saw him go down, and I’ve seen injuries like that take place.”

He’s seen them because Baringer is a punter, one who was on the roster at Illinois last season as a preferred walk-on after playing at Notre Dame Prep in Pontiac during his high school career. But at the end of the 2017 season, Baringer left Illinois and enrolled at Michigan State.

It wasn’t a move made for football. As he said Tuesday, he simply wanted to go to MSU.

More: Michigan State aims to avoid loss of focus against CMU

More: MSU running back LJ Scott questionable for game vs. CMU

“I wanted to come here because this where I wanted to come out of high school,” Baringer said. “If I didn’t play a sport I wanted to be at Michigan State.”

So, here he was. And while he was here he figured he might as well keep trying to play. He attended a walk-on meeting last January, and the coaches asked him to keep working throughout the spring and summer, keep honing his craft and come back in the fall.

He did, the Monday just before the Arizona State game.

“Labor Day, the previous Monday, I had come in for the walk-on meeting, so I knew I was gonna have a tryout Wednesday of the bye week,” Baringer said. “But everything happened pretty quick and they called me on Monday and asked me to come in. I came in on Monday and had practice on Tuesday.”

By Saturday night, he was on the field in Bloomington, Ind. And after redshirt freshman Tyler Hunt handled the first three punts, Baringer got his shot. In the second quarter with Michigan State facing a fourth-and-3 from its 46, Baringer was called on to kick. It was a 33-yarder that resulted in a fair catch at the Indiana 21 by the Hoosiers’ dangerous return man, J-Shun Harris II.

It wasn’t perfect, but Baringer was happy.

“It was on the left hash and I wanted to put them deep but not too deep,” Baringer said. “I want the inside the 20 and I got them on the 21. It was my first snap, and I knew J-Shun is a good returner. … I wanted to get him as close to the sideline as possible with enough hang (time) he wouldn’t have a return and luckily I did that.”

Whether Baringer gets another shot to show he should be Michigan State’s full-time punter remains to be seen. He’ll continue to battle with Hunt during practice this week, along with freshman William Przystup. Backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi also will keep mixing in some work punting.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said all four have played well in practice, but getting it done consistently on Saturdays is the next step. Whoever takes that step will win the job.

“They have done a good job with pressure and go times are good, and then you've got to do it in the game,” Dantonio said. “I mean, it's different, when you go into the game, you've got to — you could hit 50-yard pops in practice with four or five hang time, but in the game, you have got to be able to do it at that point in time, too.

“It takes a little bit of time I think to let the dust settle a little bit and then say, ‘OK, this is who we are going to go with.’ But we are giving people opportunities.”

Willis in running for 'Academic Heisman'

Senior safety Khari Willis has been named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is awarded annually by the National Football Foundation to the nation's top scholar-athlete. The award is also widely known as the “Academic Heisman.”

Candidates for the award must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, have a grade-point average of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability as a first-team player or significant contributor, and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship.

A two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, Willis has a 3.24 GPA as an interdisciplinary studies in social science major, with an emphasis on community governance & advocacy. He was voted a captain by his teammates entering his senior season.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau