EAST LANSING - Jerel Worthy knows a little something about motivation.
He had to be motivated coming in to Michigan State to get into the shape necessary to compete in the Big Ten. He had to be motivated to earn a starting spot on the Spartans defensive line. And he had to be motivated to finish last season as the team's best defensive lineman.
Now, he wants to provide veteran leadership that can also motivate his teammates.
"I just try to go out there, play as hard as I can and do the best for my team and hopefully make plays for the defense," said Worthy, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season. "But this spring ball does feel a lot different than previous ones. You feel like you've gone through all of the drills before but there's always something new you can learn. Coach (Ted) Gill always says once you hear something the second or third time that's when it starts to click. So it's just about me going out there and trying to get a good feel and lead my guys that are on the line."
Despite transforming himself into a powerful starter who led all defensive linemen in tackles and sacks last season during MSU's run to a Big Ten title, Worthy is not finished motivating himself to perform at an even higher level.
A 42-point loss to Alabama in a nationally-televised Jan. 1 bowl game will do that to you.
"Well, starting with Alabama, it was an unfortunate loss for us but it gave guys fuel to understand that in order to win championships, in order to be able to win the 'big one,' we've got to be able to compete with those teams in the SEC. It was a good motivating factor for me. I was able to sit down, watch the film, break it down and correct some things. So, I'm just getting myself ready to go out there and make plays.
"So, I'm trying to do that in spring ball. I'm trying to step up as a leader and have fun doing it."
Part of that leadership is understanding that despite finishing 11-2 last season that MSU still has a lot to prove to those who may have viewed last season as a perfect storm of good fortune for the Spartans.
"(We have to prove) that we can bounce back from a loss, that we can replace great players like Greg Jones and Eric Gordon and have a devastating defense that makes a name for ourselves in the Big Ten."
Last season, the 6-foot-3, 305 pound Huber Heights, Ohio native paced the d-line with 40 tackles, including eight for loss, and picked up four sacks.
This year, Worthy, who will enter the 2011 season with high pre-season expectations, is striving to be the best at his position in the Big Ten. He feels some intense offseason film study will help him do that. And there was lots of room for improvement.
"Things like hand placement, being able to stay in my gap for a little bit longer, not giving up blocks. Running to the football more effectively. I figure if I can be able to run to the football more effectively, I can make more plays for the team. Focusing on things like missed sacks. Going over the film, I think I probably could have had 10. So, it's just improving in those areas."
He also expects his defensive linemates to be much better this season. The only significant loss came with the graduation of defensive end Colin Neely. So MSU will return the brunt of its d-line with a year of experience under it belt. And even if Blake Treadwell's move to the offensive side of the line becomes permanent, and former d-end Todd Anderson sticks at fullback, Worthy feels the Spartans have more than enough firepower to be even better than last season.
Other than key returnees like nose tackle Kevin Pickleman and defensive end defensive end Tyler Hoover, MSU should get stronger contributions from ends William Gholston, Corey Freeman, Marcus Rush and Denzel Drone. Inside, Anthony Rashad White, Antonio Jeremiah and Johnathan Strayhorn are expected to take it up a notch. More importantly, eight members of the spring ball defensive line depth chart are juniors or seniors, giving the Spartans a wealth of experience up front
"Truth be told, I think this year's defensive line will be much faster than last year's defensive line. We've moved some guys around, guys are playing different positions and some are going to be able to play both sides of the defensive line. Once guys start to come into their own and get a good feeling, it's going to be pretty positive and we're going to be pretty explosive come the fall."