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November 11, 2011EAST LANSING - Mark Dantonio has gone through a few nicknames during his five-year tenure as Michigan State's head football coach.
During one of the Spartans' spring ball seasons he took on the persona of 'Mr. Wolf' but maybe the nickname that should stick should be "The Closer.''
Dantonio opened his weekly radio show talking about this week's guests - sophomore quarterback Andrew Maxwell and redshirt freshman safety Kurtis Drummond - and the recruiting process of both players.
At one point he referenced the part of the process where he sells the program to potential recruits. The one where he says if you come to MSU we can be more than just successful, we can be champions.
"(Andrew) was one of the primary recruits we needed to get in 2009 and when he decided to come he sort of set the future in motion for our program,'' Dantonio said of Maxwell who turned out to be one of the nation's Elite 11 prep quarterbacks.
In both cases, especially Drummond's, Dantonio talked about promises. Promises that have come true or are on the verge of coming true.
"As we talk to our players and I talked to these guys when we were recruiting Andrew Maxwell and Kurtis Drummond the talk was at that time the opportunity to go in a bowl game obviously but an opportunity to go play in a championship type venue, a championship type game or a Rose Bowl.''
During a previous show, junior defensive lineman Jerel Worthy talked about his discussions with Dantonio and being sold on the idea that if he chose MSU he would be playing for a Big Ten title.
Now, while it's safe to assume that most of the Big Ten's coaches deliver that 'we-can-win-a-Big-Ten-championship-if-you-come-here speech, Dantonio has street cred to accompany his delivery because the Spartans have won a Big Ten title with Worthy.
As part of Drummond's recruitment, Dantonio used the opportunity to play in the Big Ten championship as part of the process sell of the MSU program.
And guess what? The Spartans enter Saturday's noon game at Iowa atop of the Legends Division with a 4-1 record and if they win out, they will be one of two Big Ten teams to play in the first-ever conference title game.
MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY: During the latter part of the show, a call was taken from Iowa City from an Iowa fan and graduate. And while some taunting may have been expected the caller great paid homage to Dantonio and the Spartan program and told Dantonio that he was admired and respected by Hawkeye fans and the media in Iowa City.
Dantonio's response: "I know they're buttering us up out there, they're fattening us up, but I've said this publicly before, really since coming here, in a lot of ways we tried to emulate what Coach (Kirk) Ferentz has done at Iowa. They just gradually built the program. They built it with toughness, they built it with continuity, they built it with guys that came to play every single day and that's how we tried to build it here. So there's a lot of similarities in terms of the way they go about things and the way we go about things.
"Norm Parker is out there, who was long time Michigan State defensive coach for George Perles and also Phil Parker, who was a great player here in the secondary and is their secondary coach as well. I have a lot of respect for the way they do things and I'm sure the fans will roll out that black carpet or that gold carpet, or whatever they've got there. We've had a taste of that (hospitality) at Nebraska, let's just put it that way, and we need to come to play.''
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: That honor went to captain and senior safety Trenton Robinsonwho pulled down two crucial interceptions in MSU's win over Minnesota.
Robinson's first pick came early in the third quarter with MSU trailing by three points. That eventually led to game-tying field goal by Dan Conroy.
His second pick came in the final minute of the game with Minnesota driving for the tying touchdown.
"The first one really is sort of what started a spark for us from a defensive standpoint,'' Dantonio said. "I think we have 13 picks right now so there's a lot of guys with a lot of opportunities back there and they're making the best of it.''
BET YA DIDN'T KNOW: It always helps to have connections in recruiting, rather they come randomly or someone points them out.
That's what happened with Drummond who didn't get a lot of attention early on in the recruiting process. But when one his coaches mentioned an MSU connection, Drummond took heed and took a look at MSU.
"Going into my junior year (of high school) I didn't really have anything (in regards to scholarship offers),'' Drummond said. "I wasn't really sure if I was going to play in college and then the summer going into my senior year I got my first questionnaire. Michigan State showed interest early and I had a high school teacher who actually coached Coach Narduzzi in high school and he told me I should come check it out. The first time I came up here I knew this was where I wanted to be, so I scheduled an official visit and committed the next day.''
BET YA DIDN'T KNOW II: Dantonio is now the sixth coach to win at least 40 games while patrolling the MSU sideline.
"The thing I recognize is that all of those (other) coaches had great players. And that would be same case at our place. Last year's senior class won more games than any other in the history of Michigan State football and this year's senior class, I believe, has either tied it or went one up on that.''
Actually this year's senior class has tied the mark and will have a chance to break it in Iowa City on Saturday for a program that is now 10-3 in November under Dantonio's rule.
MORE PRAISE FOR THE O-LINE: Graduations, injuries and inexperience have made this season's development of a consistent offensive line a challenge but the Spartans have continued to improve up front even when injuries hampered their development.
Last week against Minnesota, the Spartans used their third center when junior Ethan Ruhland stepped in for an injured Travis Jackson.
Despite the change, MSU was able to execute up front well enough to get the job done.
"Our offensive line continues to move forward,'' Dantonio said. ''We've had some injuries there with Travis Jackson being out last week, so Ethan Ruhland stepped in there. Anytime you have a new center, there's a lot of things that are going into that but Ethan got some needed experience and that's the biggest thing. Our left tackle Dan France continues to grow, our right tackle Fou Fonoti continues to grow. At times there are issues but the biggest thing we've been able to do is protect the passer and that needs to continue.''
SOME BASKETBALL TOO: After a Spartan fan called in from San Diego (she was there for the aircraft carrier basketball game but promised to make it to the Iowa game also), Dantonio talked a little men's basketball and the significance of the game between MSU and No. 1 North Carolina at 7 p.m. on Friday.
"Tom (Izzo) is a great patriot,'' Dantonio said. "I also want to congratulate him on, and I can't talk about the guy's name, (Dantonio was referring to the latest men's basketball get, shooting guard Gary Harris) but I can certainly say congratulations on a great recruit that he was able to land this week. But the opportunity to go out there and play in a really innovative and cutting edge type environment . . . it's going to be special and it's important that the armed forces, the people on the aircraft carrier, they have precedence and priority seating over anybody that's going there. So it's for the troops.''
VERSATILITY: Drummond holds the distinction of being able to play both safety positions and has become a valuable asset to the secondary because of his ability to excel at both spots.
"Knowing both of the safeties (positions) is just an opportunity to get on the field,'' Drummond said. "Coach (Harlon) Barnett told me through camp, 'it's not about playing free safety or boundary safety, it's being able to play safety,' so I just took upon myself to learn from Trent and Isaiah (Lewis) just to have an opportunity to get our there. Basically, I just go out there on third downs and just try to get the ball back to our offense.''
DANTONIO HUMOR: While Dantonio was talking about Maxwell's development, he segued into the fact that the Midland native had worked with former Spartan coach Denny Stoltz. He also talked about Stoltz visiting practices, along with former Spartans coach George Perles. Something Dantonio admitted he aspires to one day.
"To see guys, whether it was Coach Perles a couple of days ago or Coach Stoltz last Friday, it's great to have them come back and be a part of this program. And that's what I hope to do someday, put on a hat and come have a cup of coffee,'' Dantonio said. "But not for a while."
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