December 6, 2013

Radio Rewind: 'We're not finished yet'

EAST LANSING - The talk obviously surrounding Mark Dantonio's final radio show of the season covered the No. 10/9 Michigan State's team's ascension to the top of the Legends Division that resulted in an undefeated Big Ten season at 8-0.

While everyone is focused on the game, Dantonio took a little time in the beginning of the show to talk about the process which drove his team to this moment, one that has them just one win away from their goal of playing in the Rose Bowl if they can knock off No. 2 Ohio State in Indianapolis on Saturday.

''Just a great job by our seniors,'' said Dantonio, the Big Ten's Coach of the Year. "When you talk about winning 40 games in their four years as we talked about last week and the things we talked about at practice (Thursday). You don't just show up on Dec. 5 and say 'hey, we're playing for championship.' You have to plan for that, you have to dream about that, you have to work extremely hard, fight through adversity and you've got to stay healthy. You've got to do all of the little things to accomplish those goals. So when we talked to our football team about that (Thursday) night, you just sort of take yourself back a little bit and think back to February of last year where it really all started, when this season all started. It's a long time coming but we're here and we're one step away from those goals.''

Dantonio continued later by talking about the building blocks that helped put MSU in this position for a chance to go to Pasadena.

"It didn't happen overnight. We just didn't wake up last week and say, 'well, we beat Minnesota, let's go to the championship game.' This is the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people coming here. I think back to Greg Jones coming here. I think back to guys like Brian Hoyer playing well, Javon Ringer staying his senior year rather than going out early when he could have, when he gained 1,800 yards, I think, as a junior. So there's been a lot of people that have done their part as they have moved forward, to try and just get to this point. And we're not finished yet. Who knows what's going to happen but at the same time, you feel good about the progress of the program and the foundation that's being built here.''

Conspiracy theory

Well, it was bound to happen, especially after some of the controversial and questionable calls that have haunted MSU in past performances but one audience member just put it out there by asking if there was anything MSU could do to make sure the Spartans got a fair shake in officiating on Saturday.

Of course, Dantonio took the high road and tried to be diplomatic but reassuring about outside forces interfering with the Spartans chances to compete on a level playing field.

"Uh, well I would hope that everybody's doing their job. That's all I can say. I think there are a lot of bang-bang plays out there, which means that they're happening and done (with) in split seconds. People are making tough decisions. But I think we'll get a fair shake. There's a lot of eyes across the nation watching this game and I'm sure a lot of people will call foul very publicly if things happen.''

Dance fever

Maybe the best question of the night came from a young audience member who, in the wake of MSU's notable postgame celebrations that have involved coaches dancing, asked Dantonio if junior center Travis Jackson taught him how to dance.

The answer was just as priceless.

"Actually, I'm older than Travis so I taught him how to dance,'' Dantonio said.

Nut crackers?

The show's player guests brought back sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun and senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

Although both had appeared on earlier shows in the season, Dantonio brought both back because they were conference award winners. Calhoun, the conference's Defensive Lineman of the Year and Dennard, the Big Ten's Defensive Back of the Year.

Calhoun is also one of six finalists for the Hendricks Award, given to the nation's top defensive end, while Dennard is a Nagurski and Thorpe Award finalist, given to the nation's top defensive player and defensive back, respectively.

During Calhoun's portion of the session he explained what has gone on in the process to reaching the point that he and many of his teammates have achieved up to this point. And what Dantonio expects from his team throughout the course of a season.

"I just want to start by saying that Coach D was right. He doesn't let you sit on the sidelines. You're going to work for everything you get. He's a tough nut to crack. That's for sure. You rarely get a smile out of him.''

To which Dantonio replied: "Sort of ironic, isn't it. A tough nut to crack, referring to the fact that a Buckeye is a nut.''

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