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'I've been an underdog too': Tom Izzo has words of wisdom for Michigan State football players

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Tom Izzo is a Hall of Famer for everything he’s done in the game of basketball, but he’s never made it a secret that he’s a huge football fan. In fact, it’s probably his favorite sport.

So the Michigan State basketball coach was more than happy to accept Mel Tucker’s invitation this week to address the Spartans football team as it prepares to take on Michigan this week in a game where the Wolverines are heavy favorites.

Tom Izzo

Michigan State played a significant role in establishing the line that currently favors Michigan by 24 points with its season-opening loss to Rutgers. But Izzo emphasized to the football players the mindset a team needs when everyone is counting them out.

“I let them know that I've been an underdog too,” Izzo said “A lot of times I’ve been an underdog and I’ve won my share of them. They can go in there and win theirs.”

Izzo said he spoke with Tucker soon after the 38-27 loss to Rutgers said it was “tough” for Tucker to lose the opener. However, Izzo cut the new coach some slack, reminding everyone that as soon as Tucker had his coaching staff finalized, everything was shut down because of COVID-19.

“I think our guys still have stickers on their helmets with name tags,” Izzo joked.

More: MSU mailbag: Elijah Collins, offensive line are off to a slow start

As for what’s happening on the field, Izzo said the turnovers are being addressed and he’s even using it with his own team, as one of the assistants said for every three turnovers in practice, the team will be running.

Izzo talked about all that with the football team and emphasized how important leadership will be this week. In some of the biggest wins of Izzo’s career, he said the key was the leadership initiative taken by the players.

He also reminded the players that it’s OK to be fired up, but don’t let it overwhelm them.

“You can hate somebody so much that you don't do a good job coaching or playing,” Izzo said. “You’ve got to respect your opponent, but you have to make sure that it doesn't take over and then you start making mistakes and penalties. And then I talked about all the days they’ve worked out. ‘Really, you’ve got three days (to prepare). You give this coaching staff three days of everything you have – and three days seems like a small number of the 35,000 days that we should live.’

“But three days is important, and (I told them) just how proud I am of the program and how excited I am to see them move forward.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau