EAST LANSING - When Michigan State players elected captains this week, most observers expected that senior safety Trenton Robinson would be joining Kirk Cousins this year in that rank.
But when it was announced on Thursday afternoon that Joel Foreman would join Cousins and Robinson as captains, outsiders gained an understanding of the type of leader those on the inside of the Skandalaris Center have seen brewing for years.
"The team made a good decision in voting Joel as a captain," Cousins said. "He's a good teammate, a hard worker and he has been leading that offensive line real well for quite a while now. Joel and Trenton will do a great job for us as leaders."
Foreman will a fourth-year starter for the Spartans at left guard this year. In the past three years, he has been a starter in 25 Michigan State victories.
"It's a tremendous honor, and I haven't had a chance to call home or tell anybody yet," Foreman said. "I found out just a few minutes ago, and it's hard to explain what it means to me."
Foreman (6-4, 315, Highland, Mich/Milford High) is the first four-year starter at Michigan State since Shane Hannah (1991-94), and was second-team All-Big Ten last year, and honorable mention All-Big Ten as a sophomore in 2009.
"It's definitely an honor to have your peers vote and put you in that position, and be beside Kirk and Trent in leading this team, all that I can say is that it is an honorable thing," Foreman said. "When it comes from the peers, the guys you go out and grind with every day, it means a lot. It's a special thing.
"It's always going to be tagged on you. There is a list that Coach D has that have been captains through the years at Michigan State, and to be in that fraternity is very special. It comes with a lot of responsibility. It's something that we have to take on our shoulders to go out there and lead this team and help bring this team along."
Cousins has complimented Foreman for the job he has done in leading the offensive line since the spring. Now, on an official basis, Foreman's leadership will extend outside of the offensive line room. He said he has taken his cues from Cousins.
"Kirk has been an inspiration for me, with him being a leader for three years, he is something that I have looked to him and how he has conducted himself," Foreman said. "I look forward to stepping in those shoes and helping lead. It's something that we are excited for."
Cousins is the first three-year captain at Michigan State since Robert "Buck" McCurry, a center from Lewiston, Pa., held the rank in 1946, '47, '48.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio was back at practice today. He missed practices earlier in the week in order to be home in Zanesville, Ohio with his father, who underwent a medical procedure.
Foreman said he is not the only leader in the o-line room.
"Chris McDonald is out there leading with me," Foreman said. "He has gone out there every day with a purpose and it's amazing to see the work he has done for this team. The line has made leaps and bounds, even since the beginning of camp. It's not just me leading."
Michigan State's preseason camp closed on Thursday evening. The Spartans will have Friday and Saturday off before beginning game-week preparations on Sunday for the season opener on Sept. 2 against Youngstown State.
"What I noticed this camp was how much the game has slowed down for me," Cousins said, "especially looking back to how I was in my first year of starting. The game has slowed down a lot for me and I'm able to see things before they happen and find the open man. I think there are third or fourth options that weren't getting the ball in past years, and I'm able to get them the ball now. There is no doubt that I can see the field better and I just hope that can carry over to greater success on the field."
Michigan State seniors speak to the team individually throughout the course of training camp. Cousins took his turn for his "Senior Talk" on Tuesday evening.
What did he say?
"One of my messages was: Just be Joel Foreman; that will be good enough. Just be Jerel Worthy; that will be good enough," Cousins said. "And I don't mean talent. I mean the character inside. You have to bring that to the table, and if you do that, that will be good enough for this team to have the success we want to have."
That was before Foreman was elected team captain.
As for future candidates for captaincy, sophomore quarterback Andrew Maxwell is one to keep an eye on. Maxwell is in line to be Cousins' successor next year.
"Andrew is very mature for his age," Cousins said. "He is 20-years-old, but he carries himself like he is 23 or 24. For myself, that's great to be around. As I leave this program, that's the kind of guy you want to be here, leading this team. I'm excited about the future he has in front of him. He works very, very hard. He knows the game very, very well, especially for just being a redshirt sophomore."
Dantonio's statement on captains
Dantonio was not available for interviews on Thursday. Michigan State released these statements from Dantonio regarding the newly-elected captains:
On the three captains:
"They're a great group of leaders who have all played a lot of football here. They've not only had success, but they've also been on the other side of the fence a little bit in terms of having to battle through some adverse situations in their lives. When you pick leaders, as I told our football team this morning, you need to find people who have gone through difficult times and have been able to move forward in a positive manner. I think they will be great leaders for us."
On Kirk Cousins:
"Kirk just has a way with people. Whether it's joking around with them, being serious with them, sending a message at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon, or just standing in the locker room talking to somebody, he has a way of being very real and very caring about other people. That's why you see him succeed as a leader. It was a great choice again by our players."
On Trenton Robinson:
"Trenton brings a lot of energy to whatever he does. I think last year he was seen as a leader as well on the defensive side of the ball. He'll be a great captain. He's a very sentimental person and has a lot of enthusiasm. There's a lot to him as a man. This will propel him into great things for the rest of his life - he's a special person."
On Joel Foreman
"Joel is a very positive person and has battled through adversity - he's a guy who's been there, done that. He's one of the first guys in that first group that came here in 2007, so he's seen it from A to Z, really. I think it's very fitting and very well deserved for him to become a captain in his senior year. He'll do an outstanding job."
On the rotation of the fourth game captain:
"We will have the same process as we did last year (rotating a fourth game captain among the unity council). We vote on the unity council periodically, probably around five or six times a year, so guys have to continue to lead, and if someone emerges as a leader, somebody has to step aside. The unity council is such an important representation of our football team, and they meet with me regularly. I think it's important they all have a voice on Saturdays and have that opportunity to go out to midfield and say, 'what am I going to do with this opportunity.' It's a good thing for our team."