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Spartans QB O’Connor: 'It's finally my turn'

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Tyler O'Connor

East Lansing — It wasn’t as contested as the quarterback competition was three years ago, but this time Tyler O’Connor comes away with the starting job.

The fifth-year senior was named Michigan State’s starting quarterback on Monday by coach Mark Dantonio, winning a battle that always seemed like O’Connor’s to lose.

“I can say right now he’ll start week one,” Dantonio said before practice. “He’s the No. 1 guy. He’s had a good enough camp to say that right now. But will the other guys play? Possibly.”

It seems probable that junior Damion Terry and redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke could see time in the opener against Furman on Sept. 2, but after that, it’s up in the air which might serve as O’Connor’s primary backup.

Terry has the most experience and played along with O’Connor in last season’s victory at Ohio State when Connor Cook was out with a shoulder injury. But Lewerke has had a solid camp as he and freshman Messiah deWeaver have pushed for playing time.

“That remains to be seen as we move forward,” Dantonio said of the backup spot. “But I think (it is) Damion right now, but it remains to be seen.”

MSU offensive coordinator Dave Warner

Added offensive coordinator Dave Warner: “We’ll see how that all shakes out, but (the backup spot) still certainly is open and just like every position it’s a week-to-week deal.”

What doesn’t appear to be up for grabs anymore is O’Connor’s grasp on the starting job. It’s something he’s pointed to since the night Michigan State lost to Alabama in the Cotton Bowl and it all paid off during a casual conversation with his coach on Monday.

“I’ve had the mentality (I was the starter) for a long time but I kind of just heard today,” O’Connor said. “It was a small-talk conversation kind of thing. It wasn’t anything big, there wasn’t a meeting or anything like that. It was just kind of like ‘You’ve done what you’re supposed to, you’ve done everything you’ve been asked this fall camp so be ready to start’ kind of thing. It was pretty laid back, but that’s been my mentality the whole time.”

That has been clear throughout offseason workouts, in the spring and now in preseason camp. O’Connor expected to be the starter.

And after spending the last two as Cook’s backup, the time was right.

“Tyler has been steady since last spring,” Warner said. “Obviously we expect that of him just being a fifth-year senior. He’s as knowledgeable as anybody we’ve had at the quarterback position with our offense and he’s just done a good job of leading this football team. He’s not made mistakes and he’s created things both with his arm and with his feet. So we’re happy where he’s at right now.”

It also helps that O’Connor is mobile, something he proved in the win over the Buckeyes.

That ability to run with the ball will help an offense that will see its share of new faces along the offensive line and at wide receiver.

“It’s always great to have a quarterback that, if things break down pass protection-wise, he’s got the ability to pull the ball down and go and make some guys miss,” Warner said. “He did that a little bit last year with the opportunities he had, so I think it’s great.”

While O’Connor won the starting job this time around, he was nearly in the same spot back in 2013 as he competed for the starting spot with Cook, Terry and then senior Andrew Maxwell. And if not for a couple of mistakes in non-conference play, it might have been his job. Instead, it went to Cook, who became the winningest quarterback in school history.

That position battle taught O’Connor how to approach this season, but it was the next three seasons where he learned what it meant to stick things out knowing his chance was coming.

“It is a long process here at Michigan State, especially when you go through the situations I’ve been in, but it certainly does come full circle," he said. "That’s something Coach D preached from day one. Your time will come no matter what as long as you work hard and do the right things. You kind of respect the process we have here at Michigan State and that’s what I’ve done.

“I appreciate it was a close race back in 2013, but I’m where I feel I should have been a long time ago. But that being said, it’s finally my turn and I’m excited about it.”