After Rejecting the NFL and an Opportunity to Leave Early for the Draft, MSU Star CB Darqueze Dennard Comes Back with Unfinished Business!
Michigan State undoubtedly had one of the best defenses in the nation last season. Playmakers such as Max Bullough, William Gholston, and Johnny Adams led the charge, as the Spartans shut down nearly every foe.
With so many other talented players surrounding him, Darqueze Dennard dodged the spotlight. During his junior campaign, the gifted cornerback quietly locked down some of the best wide receivers the Big Ten had to offer. Dennard racked up 52 tackles, three interceptions and 10 passes defended last season, earning a first-team All-Big Ten selection and the team’s Jim Adams award (given to the defense’s unsung hero).
The senior defensive back enters the 2013 season with a brighter spotlight shining on him. Dennard has been named on watch lists for the Bednardik Award (defense player of the year) and Jim Thorpe Award (nation’s best defensive back), and the Nagurski Trophy (nation’s best defensive player). Entering his third season as a starting cornerback, Dennard has high expectations to live up to.
The talented defender spurned the NFL to come back to Michigan State to honor his word to his family and Mark Dantonio from way back in the recruiting process. He promised them to be a student first.
Despite the defense’s outstanding play, the team as a whole experienced a tough season last year thanks to a number of close losses. The Spartans used the disappointment to motivate them over the offseason, working harder to ensure that the 2013 season ends with more than just a regular bowl appearance.
“I’d just say throughout winter conditioning, spring ball and summer workouts we’ve all been pretty much working out with a chip on our shoulder,” Dennard said. “We’ve been hungry, you could say. Like Coach Barnett always elaborated in our defensive meeting room…humble and hungry. It’s just how the whole team is presenting themselves right now.”
The three-year letterman further explained the team’s drive over the offseason. “Coming into this season we all know that we’re just a couple inches, a couple plays away from being an 11-1 team realistically. Pretty much that motivates us,” Dennard stated. “We were right there last year. We just gotta come down with the plays. We gotta make them. They all just give us confidence that we can be on top this year.”
Mark Dantonio has given his defense even more incentive by setting a specific benchmark for the unit. The seventh-year Spartan head coach wants the defense to allow 17 points or fewer per game. The goal is lofty, but most members of the defense are certain that it can be done. “[We are] very confident. I know a lot of defensive players: we all strive [for] zero points. The coaches like 17 but we all put it on ourselves that we don’t want anybody to score,” Dennard said. “If they don’t score we got confidence the offense can score…That’s how we’ll go into every game this year.”
A key spot heading into the 2013 season is the star linebacker position. Senior Jairus Jones and junior Taiwan Jones will be fighting for the starting role during training camp in August. Dennard weighed in on the situation. “JJ [Jairus Jones] added another dimension because he’s played safety so he has the ball skills, he has the speed. Taiwan brings a whole other intensity with his power and his strength. We’re gonna need both those guys, and with that added competition it just makes the team better.”
Dennard also talked about the transition to the spread offense in college football today. The 5’11, 197 pound product noted that the change makes his job tougher and places more stress on the secondary. “We all talk about it…We gotta make plays at the end. We also know that our defensive line and our front seven is going to put pressure on the offense, the quarterback. We don’t have that much time to cover, so they’re going to help us out,” Dennard explained. “We all know that the less time they have time to throw it, the more plays we can make. So we just gotta make plays when they come.”
The Spartan defense looks to be just as sturdy as it has been in years past. Darqueze Dennard will be a major part of the group’s effort to achieve more in the Big Ten. As training camp quickly approaches, look for the third-year starter to take a big step up this season and lead the defense to glory.