MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 5, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
COACH DANTONIO: Great to see everybody again. I think it's been three days.
So basically we started summer camp and goals sort of remain the same as summer camp. You want to come out of it healthy and you want to see what people retain from a functional standpoint in terms of what they have retained technique?wise and the foundation of our concepts and things of that nature, and then you want to find out position changes, what our new guys are like, get their feet on the ground. We have had three practices and two of them have been in shorts, so very difficult to assess in shorts. Today's practice is in pads that we just finished.
So I'll take questions, probably the best way to do it.
Q. I think last summer defensively you guys were able to accelerate things with all of the experienced guys. Are you still able to be ahead of like a normal year with the experience you have tore is that much different this year in terms of putting the whole thing together?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we are still ahead defensively from that standpoint.
You know our guys that have been here, they have gone through spring practice. The majority of our players are not redshirt freshmen in that group. They are guys with experience. Maybe they have not started every single game but they have been in the rotation so that's been a positive thing. The things that we install really are on the same timeline that we have always done it. We have put a lot in on a daily basis and we are on our third practice, probably 80 percent of what we do essentially will be in by the end of seven days.
So we are going to continue to just move forward. There's a lot of retention by our older players, as you would imagine, and you know, I think it's a good situation. We have a lot of guys who have played for us.
Q. I'm just wondering, last season you got off to a slow start offensively. What are your keys to start faster on offense this season?
COACH DANTONIO: From an experience standpoint, I think that's the main thing. We have much more experience and we have got a quarterback who is settled into the situation. He's not trying to win the job. He's got the job. He's had success. We've got wide receivers who have had success, as well.
Offensive line, although we lost three very good players, have sort of been retooled and we got players back. We got five starters back. Tight end situation is much more identified and same thing experience in our running back situation really has not changed. We didn't graduate anybody so that's all the same.
So from that standpoint, we have much more experience back. We are trying to define things and what is our retention. Same things, still things you are to be able to do, but we are much farther along. Hopefully that translates into points and better play on the offensive end.
Q. Shilique Calhoun, over the course of his career and where have you seen him make progress as a leader?
COACH DANTONIO: Shilique Calhoun has been a day that from day one when he came in here, he practices extremely hard. He was very similar to did he me tries cooper as a freshman. A little thinner, very active, high energy, those type of things and he's just grown every year.
As a redshirt freshman he played a little bit and then last year, he had sort of a break out year where he was the starter and a lot of big plays. He had that big play knack or ability. A little bit like as I remember Julian Peterson had when he played here. Julian was a guy who would get loose on a sack and always a guy to scoop a fumble or pick off a pass and that's what you see Shilique do. Big play guy, he's been consistent and I think the next step in his transformation is really, or his he involvement, is really the total dominance of that C.V. guy.
Because remember now, he's only been playing one year as a starter, so you would think that he would take a step forward in that area, as well. He's done a great job from the leadership standpoint. I think actually his personality, when he has meetings and such, he likes to have a good time and he keeps things fun for our players. He's always sort of up. I really don't ever see Shilique down in the dumps, and I think that's something you've got to work at every day as a person.
Q. I spoke with Mark Hollis earlier today and he was saying that season tickets were selling out faster than they ever have been. Can you talk about the fan excitement surrounding the season and your expectations and also how this has impacted football recruiting?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we've gone to the Rose Bowl last year and won it and won the Big10 Championship. That's the first time that we can sit here in the summer after that to say those type of things.
We have got a great home schedule coming into this stadium. It's a great stadium and environment to play in. I think that the Spartan fans are very excited right now. We have got to keep climbing. We have to, as I said earlier a week ago, not get ahead of ourselves, not be entitled. Got to continue to work hard, but I think there's a general June excitement around. There always has been here at Michigan State.
You know, with everything that's going on, I think it's increased. From a recruiting standpoint, things continue to move forward, whether it's how we operate or whether it's our facilities or whether it's this university or whether it's the success we've had or the opportunities that lay for our new people coming in are having a lot of success right now and I think we are gathering a lot of momentum in the recruiting process.
It's good and I think we have got good players coming and good people.
Q. How can you exceed last season? You won everything that you could, the Big Ten, the Rose Bowl; is it as simple as a national title? How do you tell your team you can exceed last season?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, I think the bottom line is, for a football team, you know, the ball is going to bounce certain ways. Do you play hard, are you resilient, are you prepared do you do everything you can to be successful, do you carry yourself on and off the field correctly, all these different things.
Now the general public evaluates you I think as, hey, do you win or do you lose. And we won a lot of games last year. But there is always something that you can do to go a little bit better that's what I challenge our players to do. Just because you don't win a football game does not mean that you don't have success as a person. Everybody has to try a little harder, work a little harder, set their sights a little harder. We proved that he can with get there and we proved that we can win on a big stage.
So as I talked to our players the other night, that thing has been established. That aspect of this program has been established. What can we do now to go beyond that and that doesn't just mean winning football games, but how do you carry yourself beyond that as a person here.
Like I said, the team is made up of a bunch of individuals so we just have to all to continue to work hard and everybody is at a different stage here. Guys are coming in for their first three practices and other guys are finishing their last three practices of their senior season, the first three being their last.
Everybody is a little bit different but I think there's a genuine enthusiasm and there's still very good chemistry. Our seniors have to lead and I think our guys are energized right now. But that can turn south very quickly. That's why I go back to I didn't say, we have to be resilient and prepare for every game and not get ahead of ourselves. So right now, it's about fall camp to me.
Q. Last week there was talk about Hunter's shoulder and that kind of stuff. With the defense and so many people talking about however many starters you have to replace, six or whatever, do you see a difference from those guys coming back of maybe how they are approaching it to kind of prove to people that it's more like reloading and they don't have to take a step back?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think our players have a lot of confidence on the defensive side of the ball. They have had great success. We got a lot of players back with game experience. People are waiting their turn to make a statement.
So whoever that is, and there's a lot of different people that you can bring up in that record. There's a foundation of who we are that remains from within our players. There's a foundation there, and again, there's a lot of positive energy that comes from our coaches and what we have been able to accomplish on the defensive side of the ball. Those things just springboard you into the next phase, and this is 2014 now.
So again, we have to develop our reputation again and I think there's confidence there. And as I said earlier, it's not like we are slowing things down. We are taking things that we need to work on and working on those things. We are accelerating our pace in terms of the installation and those type of things.
Q. At the Big Ten Media Day, the Big Ten Network asked the 42 players to ask a coach they wanted to play for and you won that poll. I know you don't like to talk about yourself, but how does that reflect on your players and your coaches for how they are representing the conference that the players would pick you?
COACH DANTONIO: It was humbling I guess when I saw that. But you know, they don't play for me. So I'm more concerned about what our players here think of me and will they continue to play for me. I guess that's how to answer. I appreciate what they have said. That was very kind of them. But really, in the big scheme of things, they don't really know me too well?? some may. But I'm more concerned about our players.
Q. You've had a number of receivers last year step up and prove themselves. What are you seeing from them early and what do you expect from them this year?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, I can't remember when he tweaked last year, a calf or something of that nature and that set him back a little bit. De'Anthony had a little?? as he moved into things. Injuries set them back and other people accelerated their progress.
But from what I've seen so far, but again, like I said, we are so early; we have a lot of receivers that can catch the ball. I don't think we have six guys, six, maybe seven guys that are equally as functional that are big play guys and you can throw the ball to any of them. I think we saw that last year with the variety of guys.
I think some people have moved their game forward because they have a bigger curve. R.J. Shelton was a tailback when he was a freshman. Now he's a full?fledged wide receiver, so there's a bigger curve and so he's developed more fully. I'm excited about our wide?outs, very excited about our wide?outs. We are losing some of those guys.
So it's an experienced group. Go back to 2012, not much experience but now you're going into three years with a lot of experience. Very similar to 2011 season when Keyshawn and Keith were all back later in their careers.
Q. Would you reflect to your first year, eight years ago; how has the heebie?jeebie factor changed, or excitement, lack of a better term?
COACH DANTONIO: I like that term. What do you mean? (Laughter).
Q. From the first year when you were probably all excited and have a new team to now when you get out here, three practices in and the excitement level, is it different or is it just more routine now?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, when you get ready for practice, I look to see, what have we done the last seven years, because there's always going to be a little bit of a brew print to how we practice.
So I'm constantly trying to make it better and constantly trying to say, how can we make this drill better or where can we put that drill. Or even after today's practice, you decide, we have to move this over here and that over that, that type of thing. You are constantly trying to improve.
As far as my first year, you know, I really can't remember it. I mean, things sort of go pretty quickly. But I do remember our first year, that camp was a great camp in 2007. We had a great camp. Our guys were totally into. There was great enthusiasm and they were very focused and if you remember, we came out 4?0. I think we had one penalty in the first game, maybe three, but not many, and we were a pretty focused football team. Lost some later games very close, but was very appreciative of the effort and everything in 2007.
Now here in I guess 2014. You've been here and you know your players a little bit better because there's a history with them. You have to make sure that you don't let that take you into a comfort zone because you know your players and you've seen them play, but now you're backing off the accelerator a little bit.
I think that you have to continue to press forward and push people to be at their very best and you have to present challenges to everybody. So we have to be challenged and I have to be challenged and our players that have been here have to be challenged and certainly our new players are challenged.
Q. You lose three key members of the offensive line that graduated but you have a good group back. Talk a little about what that rotation did the last two years for the future and now what is really the present of the offensive line.
COACH DANTONIO: No question, it paid dividends. Coach Dayton had a method in mind when he started doing that. We actually lost three members and Mike Dennis, so we lost four guys, because Mike Dennis was the big guy that we put in at tight end that was really an offensive lineman.
The toughness aspect Blake brought, the experience that Dan France brought, the excitement that Fofanoti (ph) brought and the bigness that Mike Dennis brought at tight end, we miss all that. But with that being said, we have guys prepared to take this care of those positions. We have starters that have played a lot of football for us and have all played in a role in the Rose Bowl and a Championship Game, they were all there, a lot of them started, I think everybody started in that group, as well.
You know, Kodi Kieler is another guy that I think is going to be a great player that's on the fringe and he'll play this year, much like some of those other guys did last year and same with Benny McGowan. We have a couple of the younger players coming, as well, so it should be exciting to watch.
Q. You talked about challenging your players. What's been the biggest challenge that you've had to face since January 2?
COACH DANTONIO: Good question. That's a big question. Big question you've got to?? I'll get back to you on that.
I would say probably handling the success, because you're at the head of the program; it involves us all. There's higher expectations you have to manage and there's expectations you have to keep things real for your players but also continue to try and climb a ladder, too.
Q. You said after the banquet in April that you've had expectations before and that you've fallen short before and you're constantly looking to improve. Can you share some of the ideas you've brought in to ensure that the expectations are not too overwhelming or that you can measure up to them?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I just think we try and do things?? I think the way this program operates is, we don't hit doubles and triples all the time. We hit a lot of singles. So by that, I mean that we always seem to try and take care of item A before we get to item B and C. We don't try to get too far ahead of ourselves.
Spring practice is important and we concentrate on spring. Away from the Rose Bowl we concentrate on recruiting. We had a great recruiting class. Conditioning was excellent. Spring ball, went to what we call our bottom line program; had great results. We're hearing what we call first phase, and summer camp, take care of business.
And that's what we try to do. If there's anything that we do, I want our players to have confidence but at the same time I think it's important that we stay grounded and we understand that there's a responsibility that goes with winning. There's a responsibility that just goes with being here. There's also responsibility that goes with winning, how we carry ourselves, and how we handle ourselves and then the expectations and how we live up to those expectations.
So just little indicators and you just try it?? Calhoun comes out in first practice in his pants, he's got to go in and change. Just because he's the start doesn't mean he doesn't do that, okay. So Jeremy Langford is supposed to be in a drill, and he's sitting on the sideline, you address the issue. Just because he started doesn't mean he's not in a kickoff drill with all the freshmen.
And that's what we do. I see a piece of paper laying on the ground; I pick the piece of paper up. I don't walk by it because I'm the head coach here and that's just what we try and do.
Q. Marcus Rush, going into his fourth year as a starter, he's always been kind of the unheralded guy in that line. How has he served in that role and have you had many four?year starters on the line in your time?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, he did a senior talk last night and was tremendous, motivating. Marcus Rush will be, as long as he remains, stays healthy and continues moving forward, you know, as he always has, he's going to have the most starts I think in Michigan State football history.
So he's done an outstanding job for us, he's been a very good player and he's been an impact player for us on the edge and had a lot of big plays for us. Really what we see is what we recruited, a guy who makes a ton of big plays, active with his hands and can force you on the edge. He should have a great senior year.
He's a staple on our defensive line. He's where it starts. It starts with those two guys on the outside.
Q. Wonder if you can talk about building on the championship DNA that you got from winning the Big10 Championship and obviously the Rose Bowl and how you can use that as a springboard and building block for the program.
COACH DANTONIO: I think any time you're able to accomplish your goals, which those were our goals and are always our goals to win every football game and win a championship; if you can do those things, if you can get to the Championship Game, you can spring board into the championship, then you can spring board that game into something greater.
And so that's our goals. When you climb the mountain, you look up; you find there's a little bit more to find and there's a little bit more to do. Now, can you climb back up that mountain to see that, that will be the challenge.
So again, it goes back to handling success. We talk about things internally, but at the same time you have to be resilient and you have to readjust your goals as you move forward and you cannot put too many things in front of what is right in front of you, and you'd better be excited about playing game one before you get to game two. You'd better be excited about our first scrimmage before you get to game one. And if not, I don't think you can be as good as you can, because enthusiasm is so important and focus. And that is an intangible, so that's just a way of thinking.
Q. Connor Cook showed us last year the importance of a No. 2 quarterback. What's the competition been like for this year's No. 2 quarterback position?
COACH DANTONIO: Right now, just in our third practice, so I haven't even watched the film from this morning. Both those guys are very good football players. They are strong?armed and both make a little bit something different to the game. They are both Division I BCS quarterbacks so it's exciting to have Damion here and Tyler and we'll see who shakes out best at the end of fall camp. But they have to get scrimmages under their belt and we have to see how they perform under pressure.
Damion has a little bit of a setback. He's practicing but we'll hold him back just a little bit. So he'll get that last scrimmage in there but we'll hold him back a little bit early.
Q. A couple other coaches around the country said recently that there were recruits that they had stopped recruiting because of something they saw the player doing on social media. Curious if you ever shied away from a recruit for that reason and where do you draw the line between silly things kids do and something that might be more of a red flag?
COACH DANTONIO: We try and pick good people. That's one of our formulas for success here. We do that to the very best of our ability, so obviously if there's a red flag that comes up, then we'll have to deal with that red flag.
But that's the best answer I can give. I mean, they are young people. They are going to make some mistakes but we are going to try and recruit good people. I think you win with people. That's old school. But I think there are too many things that are going to challenge our young players when they get here for them not to come in here with a lot of red flag; they will have a tough time succeeding.
Q. Would you talk about Trevon Pendleton character?wise and would you like to see him get more involved this year?
COACH DANTONIO: Trev is from Portsmouth, Ohio. He came here as a non?scholarship player. I think he's been on scholarship for two years now. This will be his third, I believe, or two and a half. But big year last year. He's got great ability to catch the ball very well. He's had some big plays for us, huge plays for us. But, the bottom line is he's not a tailback for us. So when you put him in the game, you're a little bit in regular personnel, so we tend to gain a variety of personnel so that limits his numbers of plays.
But with that being said, he's considered a starter here. He's done an outstanding job. He makes plays for us on the edge, catching, blocking. He's capable of running the football, as well. He's been a very solid performer.
Q. How do you handle the expectations and are helped the team deal with expectations?
COACH DANTONIO: That's the same thing we talked about over here. We just try and take one thing at a time and whether it's?? I think you hole your best players accountable, that's what you have to do. You hold your best players accountable to conform to what's always been there for us as a team, and that would be the biggest thing I could say, be consistent. Don't treat a guy differently just because he's a great player.
Certainly there's certain things that you have to do sometimes. Won't say that doesn't happen but as much as you can, you treat everybody the same, because that guy is somebody else's friend, he's getting away with things and this guy's not; I think it sends a bad message. It sends an entitled message; that they are entitled. I think that's what begins to corrode a football team, because it's everybody else that surrounds your players; the momentum, the way you carry yourself, the chemistry. It becomes eroded before you lose football games.
COACH DANTONIO: Coach Evans, my college coach, my secondary coach?? you know, Richard Bell was our defensive coordinator at the time, but Coach Evans, because that was my guy, was my position coach. He was very consistent and he cared for you as a person which is what we try to do here. Got to go beyond the X's and O's and that's what we try and do here. You go back to why we're coaching.
It's a very exciting game and that type of thing and everybody is motivated a little bit differently, but you hope that you're trying to bring young people along to become self?sufficient adults and you're impacting them as people. That's what you hope for. With all of these different experiences that they have, I think that is still possible in this day and age.
Q. Leadership has always been a big part of your success here. Is this the time of year where that really comes to the forefront or is it back in the winter, and has anyone surprised you that's stepped up early in camp?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, it's a constant thing for us. Every football team is going to have their leaders. We do a lot of different things here. I think in that process as we get ready and fall camp as we do things, team?oriented things, either daily or every other day; and then, you know, throughout the entire year, they are performing.
You know, we vote just like everybody, we have sort of a leadership council but we do vote that leadership council, probably five times a year. We only pick two guys at once. So they have to pick two guys so that it's not watered down. It's not a vote that's watered down; well, let's pick this guy because I don't know who else to pick.
So it's sort of, you know, like running for Congress I guess, without being political. But if you don't get revoted, that's your problem, but you have to lead throughout the year and I think that's been something that's been a positive for us and I try and empower our guys to be part of the process and as best I can.
Q. Can you talk about the impact of Michael Geiger last year, and having that position kind of settled?
COACH DANTONIO: Mike Geiger as a true freshman, 15 out of 16 and really had some huge kicks for us if you look at the results of our football season.
So this season, he comes in as the guy. He's confident. He's stronger. I think he's increased his leg strength. His legs are extremely accurate. His focus and his positive mental attitude before every kick reminds you of Swenson, those type of guys, who have been two of the greatest kickers that have been here from my standpoint.
Q. I think in Chicago, now being the hunted team more or less??
COACH DANTONIO: One of the hunted.
Q. One of the hunted, right. Do you think your team will handle having that target, and how might that change how opponents play you? And No. 2, do you talk with your team about the national title?
COACH DANTONIO: No.1, it's something we talk about continually, handling success. It's something that I think comes with?? going to Capital One Bowl in 2008, you needed to try and build on those things. Something that in 2007, going to a Bowl game at that point in time.
So you're always to I think build on things you're able to accomplish and we are trying to do that. But we have got to handle success, and I guess that's been one of the main focuses or topics here. So I think I may have answered that question.
Second one, do we talk about National Championship? We're going to dream big. What's been established is that we have been to the Rose Bowl and we won the Rose Bowl and we won the Big10 Championship. That's been established. What we can do beyond that remains to be seen, and you always want to dream big and you always want to go farther than you did before. I think that's human nature when you've been able to run a four?minute mile, you want to break that down. When you are able to go to the moon, they want to go farther. That's just the nature. That's natural I think for people.
So, yeah, we talked about it, once. But again I go back to keep things in check, concentrate on what you have to do, and then move forward, one thing at a time. Because if we don't do things one game at a time, we have no chance, none, to getting back to where we have a springboard to go farther.
What we can do is we can get to the end of the pool. Now, can we get on the diving board I guess. Another great analogy.
Like I said, I talked to you guys three times in one week.