After exceeding almost all expectations a season ago, #5 Michigan Statenow heads into the 2018 season with lofty goals as the Spartans return 20 starters for a team that finished 10-3, a turnaround from a 3-9 campaign in 2016.
Spartan Nation sat down for an exclusive one-on-one interview with Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonioahead of the start of the college football season to discuss the state of the Spartan football program heading into the fall.
Dantonio said that his team is an experienced, confident group and is obviously in a better place in a number of different ways than it was a year ago, but was very quick to point out that last year’s success and experience gained does not mean things will come easy for this year’s team.
“We’ve got a lot of players back right now with experience, we were resilient last year bouncing back, so that gives you added confidence,” he said. “We had some guys who really had great years, remember now coming into last season we had not 12 guys with a catch, we had 12 catches coming back. This year, we’ve got our wide receiver group is extremely talented. From top to bottom I think our attitude is very good, I think we have chemistry, I think we have ability. All of that doesn’t ensure winning in this conference, our games always seem to be tight, that’s just how it is in the Big Ten Conference then alone the East (Division). So you live with that and you’ve got to be at your best and you have to find the inches, you have to talk about the inches and be resilient and try to find those every single moment to try and bring you to those heights that you’re trying to get to.”
Of the 20 returning starters on this year’s team, 10 are on the offensive side of the ball as the lone starter the Spartans will look to replace will be center Brian Allen. On defense, the Spartans will be tasked with replacing linebacker Chris Frey and defensive end Demetrius Cooper.
Considering the fact that Michigan State has an experienced, talented group of returning players that grew accustomed to playing with one another a year ago, Dantonio said that he feels that his 2018 team could be something special and added that this year’s group is an enjoyable one to be around.
“There’s something special about our football team this year - that doesn’t ensure winning, certainly, but I think they genuinely care for each other and like each other and like being around each other,” he said. “Everything that they’re doing when you watch them, it’s done with high energy right now. That’s a good feeling as a coach, they’re going to be fun to coach and it’s going to be very interesting because when you come into this room for workouts or a team meeting, we’ve got a lot of players, a lot of guys to fill up these seats and there’s a lot of good players.”
Although there is work to be done and the Spartans face the challenge of playing in a loaded Big Ten East Division once again, Dantonio reiterated that he’s encouraged by the energy around the team and the way the Spartans have overcome adversity in the past and is optimistic about this year’s Michigan State team heading into the fall.
“It’ll be a fun season, but we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “A lot of work, a lot of challenges ahead of us. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said it, watching our players workout in the weight room or on the field, moving around, that kind of stuff right now or in spring practice, there’s a good feel about our football team right now. We’ve been through some tough times, some tough moments as a collective group and as a university, but when you come out of those tough moments, because you’ve been through those tough moments, you come out of it stronger and if you can do that, you get better and I think that’s what our football team’s feeling.”
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