East Lansing — The annual spring draft at Michigan State is always good for a surprise or two, but Tuesday’s meeting of the seniors was light on eye-openers.
The one move that comes closest to being a surprise would be the fact redshirt freshman quarterback Brian Lewerke was selected ahead of junior Damion Terry, even though Terry is believed to be No. 2 behind fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor.
“Nothing surprises me,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “They make decisions. I was a little surprised they opened up with offensive line first, but that’s what they do. They look and try and balance it out.”
O’Connor was the captain of the Green team that selected Lewerke over Terry, but didn’t see it as a big issue.
“I don’t know,” O’Connor said. “Whether it’s certain guys feel more comfortable with a certain quarterback, I don’t know what exactly that was. But like I said, everyone played well throughout the spring. Brian is doing a very good job. He’s grown up so much already from last year.”
While the uncertainty behind O’Connor can make Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff intriguing for the likes of Terry and Lewerke, there seems little doubt O’Connor is taking a stronger hold of the starting position as each day passes.
Only part of that is because of the way he is playing, which has been very good by all accounts. But it’s the way O’Connor has taken easily to his role as a team leader.
“We talked about this the other week, he can’t be a shell,” quarterbacks coach Brad Salem said. “Yes, we say it’s an open competition but (we tell him), ‘You, as a senior, need to step up.’ And he really has. I think people gravitate to him and I think he’s doing a really good job of just being a more vocal leader this spring.”
It’s exactly what O’Connor wanted. He talked about it in the locker room after the loss to Alabama in the Cotton Bowl and it was on display Tuesday at the player draft. There was O’Connor leading the show for the Green team.
“To finally be in a leadership role as a senior and the oldest guy in the room, it’s where I feel comfortable,” O’Connor said. “I was born to be in that kind of position. It’s great to be out in front of things and leading things like that.”
It’s a place that has taken O’Connor a long time to reach. As a redshirt freshman in 2013, O’Connor was wrapped up in the starting battle with then senior Andrew Maxwell and sophomore Connor Cook.
In Week 2 against South Florida, O’Connor got his best shot to win the job, and when he entered in the second quarter, moved a struggling offense inside the 5. He made a poor decision, nearly throwing an interception as the drive ended with a missed field goal.
O’Connor didn’t play again that game, and by the Big Ten opener, Cook had become the starter.
“Somebody asked me how many times I thought about that,” O’Connor admitted. “I was like, ‘About a year.’ But now it’s gone. It’s been gone ever since that year has been over.”
And, O’Connor sees himself in far better position to lead the Michigan State offense than he was almost three years ago.
“I think I may have been more timid in that competition,” he said. “My thought then was, ‘I can’t make a bad throw here then I’m out of this competition.’ Those kinds of things. Now I’m pretty aggressive, I’m making plays, being smart with the ball but confident to go out there and make a throw maybe I would have shied away from back then.”
Plenty of attention will be paid to the way the quarterbacks play Saturday, and that focus likely will continue into the regular season.
But while the rest of the quarterbacks continue to battle over the backup spot, O’Connor enters the game not out to prove anything, but to confirm what he already believes — he’s the right man for the job.
“I feel very comfortable with where I am,” he said. “I feel very confident about how I played this spring. I feel like played very consistent and that was my biggest goal coming into spring. I threw the ball very well, was very accurate and made good decisions with the ball.
“So I do feel very confident. I do feel like the guys respect me as a leader, not only on the offense but the whole team.”
Michigan State spring game
Kickoff: 3:06 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Format: Green vs. White
Admission: Free. Stadium gates open at 1:30 p.m.
Parking: Free in lots 63E/W, 67, 39/40, 41; Ramps 2, 5 and 7; Lot 62W has been reserved for disabled parking. Lots open at 10 a.m.
Youth clinic: Children ages 8-12 (no registration required) from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.