Santa Clara, Calif. — As Michigan State went through its final full practice of the season Saturday, the end was a bittersweet one for 19 players wearing green and white.
That’s because it was the last time the members of the senior class would practice in their Spartan careers as Michigan State prepared to take on Oregon in the Redbox Bowl at Levi’s Stadium on Monday.
And following tradition, near the end of practice, the rest of the team and coaching staff lines up and the seniors go through, one by one, and shake hands, some sharing longer embraces and a few tears being shed.
“It’s the last practice, and in this day and age a lot of the seniors have already graduated,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
“Some of our guys will go on and work out for the NFL and agents, but some of the guys will leave after this bowl game and not come back to Michigan State again in maybe six months or a year, but guys you’ve played with you might not see. So it gives us a chance to say goodbye, even the coaches. It gets a little sentimental. You see guys you’ve coached and been around for four, five years and they’re just kind of zapped out of your life. The connection will stay but physically they may not be there. So, it’s a chance to say goodbye and it’s one of the more important things we do on our bowl trip.”
The group that said their goodbyes this week have seen plenty during their careers at Michigan State. There was the Big Ten championship and trip to the College Football Playoffs in 2015 followed by leading the bounce-back from three wins in 2016 to 10 in 2017 followed by this season.
For the fifth-year players, there was the experience of rallying to beat Baylor on the Cotton Bowl in 2014, and for linebacker Jon Reschke, it goes back even further as he was a true freshman on the 2013 team that won the conference title and beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
The experience the Spartans get at the bowl games is something the players appreciate. And having one last chance to play with a handful of their teammates is critical.
“I feel like it’s a big end to the season for the seniors that won’t be here next season,” junior wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. said. “One of my best friends, Felton Davis, with his injury and what happened, and him being a senior he’s not able to come back, so most of the things I play for are for those guys that aren’t able to come back and put on the Spartan jersey again. So, I’m definitely dedicating this last game and these last week to those guys.”
It’s been a long month for Dantonio, who endured the death of his mother Maryan just days before national signing day as the staff finished up the class while preparing to take on Oregon. He did is best to juggle family time while leaning on his assistants.
“You know, my family, much like when my dad passed, he asked me ‘What are you doing here? You’ve got a job to do,’” Dantonio said. “So I took some time to be with my family and then went back to work.
“I’ve always considered Michigan State family, and we have a family atmosphere, so for me personally, getting back to be around our players and our coaches, really helped me move forward in the process, as much as anything that I’ve experienced, and I appreciate that very, very much.”
Sophomore defensive back Tre Person did not play Monday because of an undisclosed injury. He was on the sidelines but was not in uniform.
… Junior Josh Butler started at cornerback in place of Justin Layne, who opted to enter the NFL Draft and not play.
… Freshman wide receiver Jalen Nailor returned punts while senior running back LJ Scott started for the first time since the Purdue game Oct. 27.