Michigan State assistants Mike Tressel, Terrence Samuel talk about the upcoming game against Nebraska. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — With as many returning starters as any team in the nation, there wasn’t much chance Michigan State was going to rely heavily on freshmen entering the 2018 season.
Even with a rash of injuries, the Spartans only have used three true freshmen for more than four games — the threshold for keeping a redshirt. Safety Xavier Henderson has appeared in all 10 games while running back La’Darius Jefferson has played in nine, missing only the opener against Utah State. Wide receiver Jalen Nailor has battled injuries and has seen action in six games.
Another six freshmen have seen at least some action this season, including tight end Trenton Gillison, who has played in two games. Running back Elijah Collins, defensive back Davion Williams, defensive tackle Jacob Slade, defensive back Kalon Gervin and punter William Przystup have all played in one game.
With just two games left in the regular season then a bowl game, the opportunities could increase for those and other freshmen, including this week at Nebraska.
“You look at the depth and you do think about that, but you also realize every one of these games is a battle from start to finish,” defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said. “It’s hard, even to jump in on kickoff team if you haven’t been the guy repping that for 10 weeks. There’s game-planning and learning even on the kickoff team. So there’s guys we’ve talked about, there’s no doubt about it. But you have to sort of bite the bullet and sometimes you need to get Coach (Mark) Dantonio or other coaches involved and say you know what, we just got to do it.
“So, we have those discussions but they’re hard steps to make because those guys have been part of the orange crush, our scout team, most of the year and haven’t been repping (with the starters).”
Wide receiver has been a spot that has been hit hard by injuries. Starters Felton Davis, Darrell Stewart Jr. and Cody White have all been out at some point this season, with Davis done for the season. Backups like Cam Chambers, Nailor, Brandon Sowards, C.J. Hayes and Laress Nelson have all had injuries, as well.
That has wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel thinking about who he could use.
“Yes, as much as I possibly can to get the young guys in,” Samuel said. “Javez (Alexander). I’ve got to get C.J. Hayes in there more. There’s more guys. (Redshirt freshman) Jahz Watts, I’ve got to try to get in there and see what he can do.
“It’s one of those things where I want to win the game first, so I’m putting the players in that I think can win the game. After that, when things have kind of settled and we’re getting into a rhythm, and we’re not making it uncomfortable for Coach (Dave) Warner and Coach Dantonio, then I’ll move more guys in there.”
How Michigan State handles freshmen in the future likely will change as the staff adjusts to the rule implemented this season that allows a player to see action in up to four games without losing a redshirt season.
“We’ll probably get better and doing that in the future,” Tressel said. “Those guys you think might be those types of guys, we’ll find ways to get them reps throughout the year just preparing for the last four games of the year. But being as it’s something new and different we probably haven’t done a great job of that. So now you have those discussions but like I said, it’s hard to do when they haven’t been practicing.”
Tressel honored by nomination
Last week, Tressel was nominated for the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant coach in college football. It’s something he is proud of but was quick to point out where the credit belongs.
“Coming from a coaching family, it is a big deal,” Tressel said. “That is a big-time award. I think that my dad and my uncle would say the assistant coaches’ awards are a bigger deal than the head coaches’ awards, just like as an assistant coach I’d say those player awards are a bigger deal than any coaching awards could be. It’s a big deal. It’s an honor, but we just got to keep playing ball. That award is won by the guys on the football field, not by the coaches.”
Tressel is the nephew of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. His father, Richard, was the head coach at Division III Hamline for 23 seasons and was on staff for 11 seasons at Ohio State. His grandfather, Lee, won a Division III national championship at Baldwin-Wallace College.