Mark Dantonio reviews Michigan State's first practice of preseason camp. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — When all but three players with starting experience return, the first day of preseason camp can seem a little routine.
However, for the guys who have been around, understanding what those first few days at Michigan State were like isn’t exactly a distant memory. That’s why so much of their focus over the next few days — even throughout the upcoming season — will be getting the newcomers to find a comfort level playing football in the Big Ten.
“Their minds are running 100 miles an hour,” junior linebacker Joe Bachie said. “I remember my first spring ball when I came up early. You have to have an older guy step up and say something. Tell them ‘Slow it down, no one is going to yell at you, just do the personal things right and let it come to you. Let the game come to you like you do since you have been 5, 6 years old.’
“A lot of the young guys, today was kind of an eye-opener to them. We will watch film with them today, they will learn, come back out tomorrow, still make mistakes, but they will be better.”
Bachie had at least some time to get his feet under him as a freshman, not seeing any significant action until late in his first season in 2016.
It was similar for senior wide receiver Felton Davis. As a freshman in 2015, he saw sporadic action and even caught a pass in the College Football Playoffs. But after last season’s breakout, he’s eager to impart everything he’s learned on his younger teammates.
“Being more vocal and allowing myself to lead by example and also by talking to people,” Davis said, explaining his plan this season. “With me being one of the oldest guys in the room, and I played in big games. I’ve been to Michigan, to Ohio State and some people are just trying to catch on and get the groove; certain things that I’ve seen that some people haven’t.
“So I try to help them in every scenario that’s going to come, everything that they might encounter as a wide receiver, even that I’ve encountered being from freshman year not playing to now. I feel like I’ve been through most of it, just about everything, so I can help.”
Coach Mark Dantonio believes his team has the right chemistry and the leadership group is among the best he’s had. It’s a big reason he allowed the players to make the call on whether to allow linebacker Jon Reschke back after he left the program in 2017.
“I’ve been saying really for six months, that this football team is very good with chemistry,” Dantonio said. “It’s as good as I’ve seen, really. I don’t want to speak ill against other teams, but it’s as good as I’ve seen.
“We have a pretty solid leadership group and that will be voted on again, and out of those 12 players will come our captains. They will do a good job. I think we have good leadership here, and the more guys that lead, the better your football team usually is.”
Determining captains could be a tough call with this team. in Dantonio’s early years at Michigan State, there were four captains. Since 2010, the Spartans went with three each season until last year when just Brian Allen and Chris Frey were captains, with a rotating captain each week taken from the 12-person leadership group called the Eagle Council.
Expect MSU to go back to three this season with seniors Khari Willis, Andrew Dowell, Matt Sokol and Davis being possibilities along with juniors Brian Lewerke, Raequan Williams and Bachie.
The Spartans are known for having their share of brothers on the roster, including Matt and Mitchell Sokol this season along with Mike and Jacub Panasiuk. Leading this way this season, however, are the Dowells.
Freshman defensive back Michael has arrived to join his older twin brothers — Andrew, a senior linebacker; and David, a junior safety.
“Me and David already have a thing where, no matter what name they say, we both turn because we don’t know who’s calling,” Andrew Dowell said about any potential confusion. “So it’s great to have (Michael) up here.”
You don’t have to look deep down the roster to find them, either, as Michael took No. 7, following right behind Andrew (No. 5) and David (No. 6).
Last week, during Big Ten media days in Chicago, Dantonio talked up Williams, the 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackle who went to DePaul College Prep in the Windy City. He even said that one day Williams would become the mayor of his hometown.
It flattered the redshirt junior.
“Ah, I don’t know why Coach D put so much pressure on me by saying that,” Williams said laughing, “but it just speaks to what he thinks of me. He thinks I am a great guy and I contribute to the team in certain ways.”