Big 10

NFL Spartans Come Back to Michigan State to Work Camp

June 19, 2016

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June 19, 2016

First row (R-L): Kirk Cousins, Trenton Robinson, Javon Ringer, William Gholston, Garrett Celek, Kurtis Drummond, Mark Dantonio. Second row: Darqueze Dennard, Jeremy Langford, Jerel Worthy, Bennie Fowler, Tony Lippett, Dion Sims, Drew Stanton, Taiwan Jones. Not pictured: Trae Waynes.

By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Former Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton surveyed the well-appointed, state-of-the-art media center in the Spartan Stadium’s recently renovated north end zone complex and marveled at the transformation.

“We’re in my old locker room,” Stanton said of the area where he donned his uniform on game days from 2003-06 and which had remained largely unchanged from when Biggie Munn coached the Spartans in the 1950s.

Set to begin his 10th NFL season, Stanton has been away from his Spartan playing days for so long he joked about having to introduce himself to some of the younger MSU alums who joined him in a donor golf outing, arranged by men’s golf head coach Casey Lubahn with the benefits going to his program, at the Country Club of Lansing on Friday.

However, who better than Stanton to speak about how much Michigan State football has evolved since his departure, which just happened to coincide with Mark Dantonio’s arrival as the new head coach in 2007?

“That’s what winning will do for you,” the Arizona Cardinals backup said of facilities befitting a team coming off its second Big Ten championship in three seasons and an appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Stanton was one of 14 Spartans currently playing in the NFL working at Michigan State’s annual one-day camp for high school seniors on Saturday. To him, the new facilities are impressive, but he still points to the environment at Michigan State as what he loves the most.

“We didn’t know any better when I was here,” Stanton said. “I remember being fired up because we got Gatorade machines and you could sit here and just keep getting Gatorade — unbelievable. Now, talking with the players who are here, they’re fortunate because this is one of the cutting-edge universities with what we’re trying to do.

“But, the biggest selling point for me — granted I was biased because my dad played baseball here and I grew up a Spartan — was to take everything else out of the equation. If you were just going to be a student, `Where would you want to go to school?,’ because football can be gone in a flash if you get hurt or something happens. If you can’t see yourself going to school there, then don’t waste your time.”

Stanton confessed to being jealous of Michigan State’s 2013 Big Ten and Rose Bowl Championship team, and wouldn’t have minded a few more perks, but the condition of the locker room isn’t what stands out a decade later.

“I still get chills seeing Spartan Stadium, or walking up and down the Red Cedar,” he said. “Now I can pass that down to my kids, and that feeling I have is genuine and it won’t go away. Even though I didn’t win as many football games as I would have hoped when I was here, the relationships I’ve formed and how it prepared me for the NFL (is what matters most).

“I’m so fortunate that Coach D has come in here and established dominance in the Big Ten, and I am so proud to come back here — and even though a lot of guys don’t know who I am — I can always call myself a Spartan.”

Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins speaks at MSU’s one-day senior camp on Saturday.

This is the second year Dantonio has invited former MSU players with pro experience to his camp. The other players who worked the camp with Stanton had their own unique messages about how the Spartan program helped them get to where they are today.

Cornerback Trae Waynes, the No. 1 draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings in 2015, was lightly recruited in high school but used his performance at the senior camp to move to the top of Michigan State’s wish list.

“I didn’t have that many (offers) coming out of high school and this camp is where I earned my scholarship,” said Waynes. “It means a lot to some kids.”

And, coming back continues to be a meaningful experience for the frugal Waynes, who used some of his NFL earnings to buy a new car — “It wasn’t anything crazy,” he said — and pay off his parents’ mortgage in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“It shows how committed we are to this program and how much it means to us,” Waynes said. “For us to take our free time to and work the camp just shows how much this university means to us.” Dantonio couldn’t ask for better ambassadors, or salesmen, for his program.

“It’s a chance for all of them to be back together as Spartans,” he said. “These guys have had great success in the NFL and are playing at a very high level. It’s exciting to have them all back and be part of our camp. I’m most proud of who they are as individuals and the people that they are. You just get around certain guys and they’re just fun to be around.

“It’s good to see your guys.”

Second-year NFL linebacker Taiwan Jones joined the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent last season. His lesson for the young campers is that he felt prepared by MSU to compete for an NFL roster spot regardless of his draft status.

Jones came back “to have a positive impact on somebody’s life,” he said. “You never know how you can affect somebody and shape him, not only for football but for life in general. Everybody has different paths and as long as you keep working and grinding, you’ll be OK.”

Working the camp is a labor of love for the former Spartan players because they want to see their successors add to what they’ve built.

“I feel very responsible,” Jones said. “I feel that’s what Coach D brought us in to do. We’re trying to keep the tradition not only with us, but with the senior class after this year and the one after that. We’re trying to shape the program and keep it a winning program.

“We’re a family. We like to stay together and not forget where we came from.”

William Gholston declared for the NFL draft after his junior season in 2012 and was a fourth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has started 22 of 43 career games, including 11 of 16 last season.

He has no regrets about his decision to leave early, but jumped at the chance to return as a camp worker.

“Every time I come back on campus I realize how much I miss it,” Gholston said. “I feel like we did have the opportunity to pave the way for everybody else and now they got the ball rolling now. It’s exciting to watch and to be able to come back and just give our opinion of being in the NFL because we’re at the level they want to get to.”

Gholston and two of his classmates — Le’Veon Bell, who also left early in ’12 and is a star running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and cornerback Darqueze Dennard, the Cincinnati Bengals’ top draft choice after his senior season in ’13 — serve as examples of how Michigan State developed them for success after college.

“The perception (of MSU in the NFL) is one of guys who work hard,” Gholston said. “We produced (as Spartans) and the way were coached here transitions to the NFL.”

Jeremy Langford came back to provide running backs with advice on how to carry the ball, as well as how to silence doubters. He arrived at Michigan State as an unheralded tailback, endured the frustration of three position-switches and entered the 2013 season as the No. 2 ball-carrier behind a converted linebacker.

From there, he put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in ’13 and ’14, tied school records with 22 total touchdowns and 132 points as a senior and is tied for second on MSU’s all-time touchdown-scoring list with 42. Nevertheless, the NFL remained unconvinced and the Chicago Bears took him in the fourth round.

After proving his worth last season as a rookie, Langford is a leading contender to become the Bears’ featured back and embraced his role in the senior as an example for those trying to follow in his footsteps.

“When you go to the NFL as a Spartan, they know what they’re getting,” Langford said. “They’re getting a blue-collared guy who’s going to work hard. Being a guy who was in school for five years and earned every second of playing time, that’s really special for me.

“I came to two (MSU) camps. It was fun to earn my scholarship and playing time. I’ve been through a lot of stuff here, from playing receiver to corner to running back, and then not being the official starter until after the season started. I’m just going back to that same mind-set I had here to get that starting spot (with Chicago). The first thing is to really believe in yourself because if you don’t believe in yourself how can you expect somebody else to?”

Tight end Garrett Celek is coming off his best NFL season (19 catches, 186 yards, three touchdowns) since joining the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2012. He believes the message prep participants should take from the one-day senior camp isn’t the better grade of talent Michigan State is able to attract in the wake of recent success, but what Spartan coaches have been able to do with whatever talent they have on hand.

“Hopefully, they’ll listen to us and pick up a couple pointers, depending on how good we were at coaching them up,” Celek said. “Hopefully they like what they see in us and when they see that they think that’s going to be them in a couple of years.

“I’m extremely grateful for what Dantonio and his staff have given to us, and if there’s a way to repay that, I will. If being here is a way, absolutely.”

Maybe the former Michigan State players missed out on many of the fringe benefits the current Spartan players, and those in the future, will enjoy, but Lubahn’s golf outing for the NFL players is an example of the culture of reciprocity developed under Spartan athletic director Mark Hollis, basketball coach Tom Izzo and Dantonio.

“I think this is what Mark Hollis has created at Michigan State with people like Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo and the rest of our head coaches, where they want to work together so everybody benefits,” Lubahn said. “Mark (Hollis) always says we want to go forward together, and that’s what (Friday was) all about.

“NFL guys coming back and learning the game (of golf), which they’ll use in their professional career, and supporters giving back and getting a chance to spend some quality time with them, and supporting the golf program in return. It’s very special to be a part of.”

Spartans in NFL: 2015 Update

NFL Spartans back on campus (14):
Garrett Celek, TE, San Francisco 49ers
Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
Kurtis Drummond, S, Houston Texans
Bennie Fowler, WR, Denver Broncos
William Gholston, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Taiwan Jones, LB, New York Jets
Jeremy Langford, RB, Chicago Bears
Tony Lippett, CB, Miami Dolphins
Trenton Robinson, S, Carolina Panthers
Dion Sims, TE, Miami Dolphins
Drew Stanton, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Trae Waynes, CB, Minnesota Vikings
Jerel Worthy, DT, Buffalo Bills

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