Mark Dantonio reviews Michigan State's first practice of preseason camp. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — The music was playing and the smiles were coming easy at Michigan State on Thursday morning.
It was the first practice of preseason camp, and it’s not a stretch to say the Spartans were loose. It was, quite obviously, a stark contrast to a season ago when Michigan State was coming off a three-win season in 2016 and plenty of off-field issues.
With a 10-win season and another bowl victory under wraps, the Spartans are feeling optimistic headed into 2018, thanks in large part to having nearly its entire starting lineup is back from last season’s team that finished in second place in the Big Ten East.
“The confidence throughout the whole building is skyrocketing right now,” senior receiver Felton Davis said. “Everyone feels like they are the best player when they step on the field. So we’ve got 11 people and then you put our offense vs. our defense and that’s 22 people who feel like they are the best. There’s gonna be a lot of competing and making each other better. So the confidence is high.”
The confidence is soaring, no doubt, and some of the rankings reflect that. A media poll run by Cleveland.com predicted the Spartans would finish second in the Big Ten East and the first coaches’ poll released on Thursday has Michigan State ranked No. 12 in the nation.
Most of the optimism heading into the Aug. 31 opener at home against Utah State surrounds the fact Michigan State has so many returning starters. Only three players with starting experience were lost from last season, and that means the Spartans believe they’ll quickly have the early season kinks worked out.
“We got in here to camp and it wasn’t like a teach day,” Davis said. “It was everyone come out here and play football. Being that I think we lost three people that played last year, starters, everybody else is back with two years under their belt, or one year under their belt and some with three years. So it was just more of a day to get our feet back on the ground and getting rolling again.”
That’s not to say everything is figured out just one day into camp. The Spartans have some questions to answer, like any team this time of year.
On offense, the biggest is at center where sophomore Matt Allen will get the first shot to replace his brother, Brian. However, fifth-year senior David Beedle is also getting work at center, as is junior Tyler Higby. On the defensive side, the Spartans will be looking for someone to step in as a starting end along with junior Kenny Willekes.
And with a handful of talented freshmen joining the mix, there’s no doubt the competition will still be intense.
“I’m telling you, we’re deep right now and it’s fun,” junior linebacker Joe Bachie said. “It’s gonna make this camp a lot of fun. There’s a lot of competition going around, and if you don’t bring it you never know where you’ll be the next day.”
One thing the Spartans insist they won’t do is pay attention to any of the prognosticators, especially the veterans. They’ve seen the program at the highest and lowest and understand nothing is guaranteed.
“(Mindset) stays the same,” senior tight end Matt Sokol said. “Keep your head down and play Michigan State football. The hype, all that stuff, we just keep our heads focused, put our heads down and go to work. We know internally what we have to do, what we have to get better at, what we have to accomplish as a team and as an offensive and defensive unit to reach the goals that we have. I think we try to block out all that and keep it internal and create our own excitement on this field and get ready to bring it.”
Added Dantonio, who begins his 12th season leading the Spartans, “It’ll be an interesting camp, but there’ll be a lot of competition. Really when you look around, I think there’s some positions that we need to identify: center, who’s kicking off. Some of the things that have already been identified … backup tailback, those type of things. But, there’s a lot of players back with experience and I think we’re a hungry football team. But time’s going to tell.”
The Michigan State football team goes through its first workout of preseason camp. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News