Spartans tackle vexing decision: Stay for bowl or go pro?

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Stay or go. Play or not play.

It’s that time of year for plenty of players around college football and Michigan State is no exception.

As the Spartans continue to prepare for their matchup with Oregon in the Redbox Bowl on Dec. 31 in Santa Clara, Calif., it’s something a handful of players are contemplating, whether it’s to play one final game in the Michigan State uniform or if it’s time to head to the NFL.

Junior cornerback Justin Layne already made his choice, announcing he was forgoing his final season of eligibility and entering next spring’s draft. On Wednesday, coach Mark Dantonio confirmed Layne will not play in the bowl game.

While Dantonio admitted he was disappointed by Layne’s choice not to play, the All-Big Ten second-teamer who led the conference with 15 pass breakups has plenty of support from his teammates.

"He was stressing over it, praying about it and so I know firsthand of how hard that decision was," says MSU's Josiah Scott about Justin Layne's decision not to play for the Spartans in the Redbox Bowl Dec. 31 as he prepares for the NFL Draft.

“That was the best decision for him and his family,” junior defensive tackle Raequan Williams said. “I respect everything everybody does on this team. It’s a big brotherhood on this team. Everybody loves J-Layne. Everybody respects his decision. There’s no hard feelings.”

Fellow cornerback Josiah Scott said it wasn’t an easy choice for Layne to make.

“Oh yeah (it was difficult) watching him go through it,” Scott said. “He talked with us, a couple players on the team, multiple times about it. He was stressing over it, praying about it and so I know firsthand of how hard that decision was.”

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It’s a trend that is gaining momentum as players around the country who aren’t playing in playoff games are opting to sit out.

While Layne appears to be the only Spartan that followed that trend, that doesn’t mean he’s the only one that might end up heading to the NFL a year early. Williams, defensive end Kenny Willekes and linebacker Joe Bachie all said it was something they would think about after the season.

Williams, however, wasn’t as firm, but sounded like a player leaning toward returning for his senior season.

“I think about it. Everybody thinks about it,” Williams said. “But the main thing is finishing everything. I ain’t really had time to sit back and acknowledge it yet.”

Asked if he is at least contemplating the decision, Williams said, “Yeah, you know. I don’t know. I’m a Spartan.”

Later, Williams told site Spartan Mag he was planning to be back.

“I’m staying,” Williams said. “I think I’m staying. I’m staying.”

Whichever choice Williams makes, getting his degree is at the top of the list.

“That’s the main thing,” Williams said. “I don’t ever want to start something and not finish it. That’s not me and that degree is the most valuable thing you can have.”

The thought process was a bit different for senior running back LJ Scott. He played in just four games this season, and after Michigan State lost to Ohio State on Nov. 10, Dantonio announced Scott was intending to take a redshirt and return for a fifth season.

However, after the season was complete, Scott changed his mind and said he was headed to the NFL, but he would play in the Redbox Bowl.

“It was a tough call, but I also feel like it would be good for me knowing the fact I didn’t play all season,” Scott said. “I played in four games this season so I think it will be good for me to show Spartan nation and NFL scouts, as well, one more time with the Spartan gear on.”

Scott hurt his ankle in week two at Arizona State but missed the next four games. He appeared in two games after that against Michigan and Purdue but then missed the last three games of the season.

He says he’s 100 percent now looks forward to finishing on a high note.

“My motivation was pretty high (to play) to be honest,” Scott said. “Once I made that decision, talked with my coaches and family, to make that decision to play in the bowl game, it was exciting. I sat there and thought about all the things I’ve done here and the success, the ups and downs I’ve had here.

“I also thought about when I first got here the first game people started noticing me was Oregon, so it should be last one as well.”

Scott ran for 78 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in Michigan State’s 31-28 win over the Ducks in 2015.

Playing or not was also something Josiah Scott had to tackle. He injured his knee early in preseason camp and missed the first eight games, returning to action for the final four games against Maryland, Ohio State, Nebraska and Rutgers. Dantonio said this week Scott will play in the bowl game, negating any shot at taking a redshirt year.

“I’m a competitor,” Scott said. “It would be hard for me to sit out. Losing that extra year is kinda hard, too. So, it’s kind of a hard decision, but I’d rather be out there on the field.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau