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Michigan State defensive end Jacub Panasiuk opts out of season over virus concerns

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Michigan State's football team is back on the field, but if it indeed plays this fall, it will do so without defensive end Jacub Panasiuk. 

The senior announced on Twitter Wednesday that he intends to sit out the 2020 season as a redshirt and return for his final season with the Spartans in 2021.

Jacub Panasiuk is the first Michigan State player to opt out of the 2020 season.

"After careful consideration and discussion with my family and coaches, I have decided to redshirt this upcoming season,” Panasiuk wrote. "It is my intention to comeback and finish my senior year at Michigan State University. Our country is facing difficult times with many unanswered questions regarding Covid-19. Unfortunately, with the uncertainty of the effects of Covid-19, I cannot risk my health and safety in order to play football this season. During these tough times, I will support my teammates in any way I can. #GoGreen.”

Panasiuk is the first Michigan State player to opt out of the upcoming season, a move that is starting to gain some momentum around the country. On Tuesday, Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman announced he would not play this season and will enter the NFL Draft next season.

Panasiuk, the younger brother of former Michigan State defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk, has 80 tackles, including 18½ for a loss, eight sacks and four forced fumbles in 38 career games. Last season, Panasiuk had 34 tackles, including 11 tackles for a loss and five sacks.

More: Big Ten football players unite, call for better COVID-19 protocols

The Spartans were counting on Panasiuk this season to provide his share of leadership to a defense with plenty of holes to fill, namely along the defensive line.

“He’s been a leader in the room,” defensive line coach Ron Burton said of Panasiuk in April. “He’s been helping the young guys understand the game and the fundamentals; that’s the key to us up front. As a senior defensive end, you’re kind of taking the bull by the horns as an assistant coach and understanding the nuances of what’s going on. That really allows our guys to be prepared along with us.”

Panasiuk would have been the only returning starter from last season with fellow end Kenny Willekes off to the NFL along with tackles Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk.

Williams and Mike Panasiuk were mainstays in the interior of the line but rotated often with Naquan Jones and Jacob Slade. Jones, who will be a fifth-year senior this season, and Slade, a rising sophomore, should continue to hold down the inside. It's on the edge, especially after Panasiuk's announcement, that things get dicey.

Fifth-year senior Drew Beesley, who has appeared in 26 career games, already figured to get plenty of work and will likely see that load increase. The Spartans will also be relying on the continued development of fourth-year junior Jack Camper and redshirt freshman Michael Fletcher. Both have battled injuries but Burton expects both to be in the thick of the rotation this season.

“We expect them to be co-starters and on the field a lot,” Burton said of Camper and Fletcher. “Jack Camper with the injury that he’s had; he’s gotten stronger, gotten better and understands the position. A young Fletcher who has not had that many snaps is just getting stronger; understanding what to do and what not to do. He’s a long player out there, asks great questions and we expect a lot from him.

“The guy on the other side, Drew Beesley, he’s had a lot of snaps and he’s going to be battling for that starting position. I think he’s going to have an opportunity to help us a lot because he’s had to play and he is a true teacher on the other side also. Very smart player and we expect a lot out of him.”

Others who could get a shot at seeing the field now include sophomore Zach Slade, who missed last season because of injury, and fourth-year junior DeAri Todd. Also, sophomore tight end Adam Berghorst began last season at defensive end and could flip back to that side of the ball if needed.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau