'It's about trust': Michigan State football vaccinations at 'about 90%'

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — While the Big Ten likely won’t announce its official COVID-19 policy until early next month, Michigan State is doing its best to avoid any issues once the 2021 season kicks off.

The biggest concern for the conference is what to do if a team is unable to take the field because of issues related to the virus. During the abbreviated 2020 season, the conference attempted to reschedule games that got canceled. That will be tougher to do this fall as the Big Ten, like most conferences, fully intends to play a full schedule and open dates will be hard to come by.

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker says about 90% of the Spartans are vaccinated, including safety Xavier Henderson (3).

That means a team that falls below the threshold of available players likely will end up forfeiting.

The move for the Spartans has been clear — get as many players vaccinated as possible.

“We’re about 90% right now,” Tucker said during Big Ten Media Days at Lucas Oil Stadium. “And we’re encouraging our players to get vaccinated. It’s all about education and individual conversations and being authentic and being real. It’s about trust, and we’re going to hammer it and work at it every single day.”

The emphasis behind the conversations is clear: Michigan State does not want to be in a position where it is unable to play.

In 2020, the Spartans had two games canceled; however, neither was because of COVID issues within their program. First, it was an issue with Maryland in the regularly scheduled game, and then with the Terrapins again in what would have been the “bonus” game of the season played the same week as the conference championship.

“I thought a year ago we did a tremendous job,” Tucker said. “Our medical staff and our trainers … they were there with the side-by-side, every step of the way, and we were all in it together. We followed the protocols to a T. We were able to move through the season, and when we couldn't play, it wasn't because of something that we didn't do. It wasn't that we were not adhering to the protocols.

“So, we’re going to continue to do that. Our players that are vaccinated, they'll test only if they're symptomatic. And the players that are not vaccinated right now, we have a spit test and we test those guys six days a week.”

Whether or not to get vaccinated has been an important issue around the nation, and it’s been no different for the Spartans.

Senior safety Xavier Henderson said the players have been discussing the pros and cons, but once he heard from one person in particular, the discussions ended.

“My mom told me to get it, so I was gonna get it,” Henderson said laughing. “Some of the dudes might not want to and that's ... I'm not mad at them. I don't think anything less of them, but it's probably helpful, especially if we want to play. But, it’s not like we're forcing you to get it. A lot of dudes are vaccinated and I don't think there's been any problems in a while, so it's been doing good.”

Roster release

Michigan State released its 2021 roster Friday, and as expected, there were plenty of new names.

All 18 players from the 2021 recruiting class were listed, as were the 19 players brought in from the transfer portal. Included in that group is wide receiver Keon Coleman, who intends to play basketball, as well. He is wearing No. 0, along with freshman cornerback Charles Brantley. They represent the first Spartan players to wear the number.

Other roster items of note:

► Sophomore wide receiver Ricky White and freshman defensive back Michael Gravely, who did not take part in Michigan State’s open spring practice, were listed on the roster.

► Purdue transfer Maliq Carr, another player with intentions to play basketball, is listed as a tight end. He was a wide receiver at Purdue, but at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, he has the athleticism to be a matchup problem for opponents at tight end.

► Michigan State also added three walk-ons: freshman safety Khalil Majeed, freshman long snapper Michael Donovan from Birmingham Seaholm and junior kicker Evan Johnson, an Okemos native who played at Division III Hope.

Familiar name

One name on the Michigan State roster was especially notable for Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren. That, of course, is his son, Powers, a graduate transfer tight end from Mississippi State.

Powers Warren (6-3, 245) appeared in six games for the Bulldogs from 2018-19, after redshirting as a true freshman in 2017.

“He graduated in 3½ years, he battled through some injuries, he stayed positive,” Kevin Warren said. “And so for him to get the opportunity with his college degree in hand in three-and-a-half years, to now go to Michigan State and have an opportunity to play two years of college football and work on his masters, this is what this whole experience is about.”

Saban's first pitch

It’s well known that Tucker began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Michigan State under Nick Saban. On Friday, Tucker recalled the first time he talked to Saban as a high school recruit out of Northeast Ohio.

“I got a call from Coach Saban when I came home one day from high school,” Tucker said. “Picked up the phone and he said, ‘Hey, this is Coach Saban from the Houston Oilers.’ I'm like, ‘Houston Oilers? I'm still a senior in high school.’ He said, ‘I just got the job at Toledo where your dad played, and you're one of my top recruits.’ That’s when I got to know Coach Saban.”

Tucker, of course, did not go to Toledo. He became part of Barry Alvarez’s first recruiting class at Wisconsin.

EMU on tap in 2026

Michigan State has added another nonconference game to its future schedule. In the media guide released on Friday, the 2026 schedule includes a Sept. 12 matchup with Eastern Michigan at Spartan Stadium. It confirmed the Eastern Michigan schedule released earlier in the week.

Michigan State’s schedules are complete through 2025 with one nonconference slot to fill in 2026. In addition to the Eastern Michigan game that year, the Spartans host Toledo on Sept. 5, 2026.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau