Bullough, Cox, O'Connor named Spartans' captains

Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Riley Bullough

East Lansing – A year ago, when Michigan State broke preseason camp and named its three captains, there were plenty of eyebrows raised when quarterback Connor Cook was not selected by his teammates.

No such concern exists this season as Tyler O’Connor — named the starting quarterback this week by coach Mark Dantonio — was joined by linebacker Riley Bullough and safety Demetrious Cox as captains for the 2016 season. All three are fifth-year seniors and all three are first-time captains.

“I had hoped it was coming all along and I felt the respect from my teammates,” O’Connor said “But it’s awesome to actually hear Coach D say it and to know you have the respect and the votes of your teammate and they chose me to be one of their leaders. That’s awesome.”

O’Connor was around last year when the questions about Cook’s lack of captaincy lasted all season. However, he doesn’t put much emphasis on position when it comes to captain.

At least, he’s not trying to live up to any expectations as the starting quarterback.

“I don’t think necessarily it (captaincy) has to come with the quarterback position,” O’Connor said. “Like Coach (Jim) Bollman literally just told us. ‘It’s who you are. Being captain doesn’t change what you have to do. Just be who you are and do what you’ve done, that’s why you were voted captain in the first place.’ So, it’s more of being my own person and I don’t think position has anything to do with it.”

And while having the label of captain is important, O’Connor feels even more comfortable being a leader while also being on the field. As he has said often, it was hard to lead from the bench.

Now that he’s the starter, he’s coming close to fulfilling a goal he had when he first came to Michigan State.

“When I first got here Kirk Cousins had just graduated and he was a three-time captain,” O’Connor said. “That was my first goal. Obviously that didn’t happen but I still took it upon myself to be a significant leader in this program and finally getting the chance to play I think has a lot to do with it. But joining the kind of cradle of captains they’ve had here is phenomenal.”

Amongst that cradle has been a few members of the Bullough family. Riley is the third member of his family to be named a captain following his dad, Shane in 1986, and his brother, Max, in 2013.

“It means a lot,” Bullough said. “It meant a lot to me when I committed here then when I started playing here and now that I’m a captain. It just keeps getting better and better as time goes on. It’s a tremendous opportunity for me and these guys to lead our team and we can’t wait.”

Bullough is entering his second season as the starting middle linebacker for the Spartans, something his father and brother also did, as well as his uncle, Chuck, who holds the Michigan State record for tackles in a season with 175 in 1991.

And while he’s gained plenty of knowledge from his family on playing the position, he’s been just as attentive to learning the ins and outs of leadership.

“Being a leader not only when you’re on the field and in the locker room,” Bullough said. “It’s when you’re away from the cameras, when no one knows what we’re doing, that’s when true leadership comes out and I think they’ve both done that extremely well and I think I’ve taken on some of that.”

While O’Connor and Bullough seemed like sure bets to be captains, there were plenty of possibilities for the third spot. Senior wide receiver R.J. Shelton and senior tight end Josiah Price surely had plenty of votes, but in the end it was Cox who got the nod.

The versatile defensive back has been pressed into duty at cornerback at times, but he’s back at his more natural safety positon this season.

“It’s such a blessing,” Cox said. “I feel honored they have that much faith in me. I have faith in myself, I always have, but the past couple of years of being vocal and picking people up around me has been my goal and that is where this comes from.”

Michigan State gets a couple days off before reporting back to campus on Sunday afternoon to resume preparation for the season-opener against Furman on Sept. 2.

“It’s important, as Coach D said, we have to be physically and mentally rested,” O’Connor said. “We will be but at the same time we’re eight days from Furman and nobody is forgetting about it, no one is not thinking about it because we’re all just so excited about it.”