Mark Dantonio Talks 2014 NFL Draft Spartan Pro Prospects, 2014 Team and More!
Q: You recruit these kids…you know them, you know their families. Is it a bittersweet day for you?
A: Yeah, it’s a little bit catch 22. You hate to see guys go that’s been a part of this process here and won a lot of football games here in the last 4 years. But now you just have an opportunity to watch them as they go to the next step in their life, whether it’s off the field or on the field. It’s a great example of those opportunities that present themselves when you come here.
Q: I saw you talking to Coach Mike Tomlin (Steelers Head Coach). Trying to give them a nudge with what to do with their first round picks?
A: Oh no. I’ve known Coach for a little bit. He’s a good man, a good guy. I just enjoy talking to him.
Q: What kind of pro do you expect Darqueze to be?
A: I think he’s gonna be the type of guy that’s gonna be around for a long time. He’s extremely disciplined, he’s got great intangibles. So it’s the off the field things. It’s the things about the discipline and the makeup that he has as a person that will really present him as the number one pick, I would think. Because there are certain guys that can run fast, they can play the ball and those type of things, but can you continue to get better? He’s the type of player that is always just never satisfied. He’s extremely competitive. I think that’s what makes him unique.
Q: There was a time before you arrived here where NFL teams did not make Michigan State a Pro Day destination. Are you able to step back and realize how far you’ve brought this program?
A: I think first of all, to answer that question, I think when you win good things happen to you. If you’re being successful then other things are gonna follow you. So this is a springboard to that. This is an opportunity for our guys to have a look at the next step. When you win and you show yourself that you’re a 13-1 team and you go to the Rose Bowl and you do the things and you’re a Big 10 Champion…you do that with players. And I think there’s an interest from the people that are the next level. If you were doing a great job in the School of Business here then you’re gonna have opportunities on the outside. It’s the same thing here.
Q: How gratifying is it for you to get the feedback from these scouts and General Managers that your guys are prepared for this moment and beyond?
A: Yeah, you know, it is. It’s rewarding because the greatest thing that you hear is that we’ve got good people, got great chemistry. And that’s the thing you keep hearing from the scouts and the coaches, that you can tell they get along well. You see guys like Rick Jones back here, and Jerel Worthy and some other guys that have played here. They come back to this just to watch and just to be a part of the day, standing over there by themselves, just nonchalant, just out of the picture. But they come back to watch and be a part of this, and that shows that we’ve got great chemistry here. I’ve continually said we have won here… We’ve got good players. We’ve got great coaches. But we’ve won here, and we’ve won big here, because of chemistry. That truly exists here.
Q: Who may have really helped themselves in a situation like this who may not have been known before?
A: I think you’ve got a guy like Bennie Fowler, who looks like he’s run very well. I know he went to the combine, but initially he was not invited to Combine and then got the Senior invite and that prompted him to go to the Combine. You’ve got guys like Denicos Allen who’s raised a couple of eyebrows here I think. Kyler Ellsworth…I think he verticaled 37 or something like that in there. So you’ve got a lot of guys here… I was just talking with Coach Tomlin as you said and he knows all of our guys. He’s talking about Shaker Heights where Henry Conway went to high school. So he knows all of our guys. There’s a reason that they known them. I think that speaks volumes in terms of the program. Those are good things.
Q: So this could be a really good thing for a guy like Conway who maybe slipped under the radar?
A: Yeah. It would be a good thing… He knows where Henry’s from. But you’ve got guys like Blake Treadwell here, although he can’t workout, he’s gonna have opportunities. Dan France and Fou Fonoti… You’ve got some other guys that didn’t go to the Combine. You’ve got the guys that have gone to the Combine and have already done this stuff, but you’ve got some other guys… Denicos Allen I think is a guy.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about Dennard’s on-the-field ability and what you’ve always liked about him?
A: Great balance, great hands, great toughness, great tackling ability, excellent ball skills. In high school he could play any position, any skilled position, on the field. Track times…he was 2nd in the 100 meter dash in the state of Georgia as a Senior out of high school. So he’s a guy that’s got…he weighs 195 lbs…he’s a guy that’s got a lot of tangible things that you can touch. He’s a good jumper. He’s got great timing. So a lot of things you can measure. And then you’ve got tangible things that I think takes him farther.
Q: What do you tell your guys before a day like today?
A: You gotta relax and you gotta be confident. I think that’s big. When you’re playing in the Rose Bowl or you’re playing in a big football game you’ve gotta relax and play through the situations. You’ve gotta rise to the occasion. This is another example of that. You’ve gotta rise to the occasion and step out there, when all eyes are on you, and be the man.
Q: This helps motivate the young guys with spring ball too, doesn’t it? They’ll see that all 30 teams will show up and watch.
A: It does. It’s a statement to our players that “you do well here, you prepare yourself”…at 5:30 this morning we had our winter workout for today…”you prepare yourself, you get yourself ready, you play well, there’s gonna be opportunities beyond”. I think that’s in every aspect of your life…educationally, socially and athletically as well.
Q: Does Denicos personify that chip on the shoulder mentality that you guys have become kind of famous for?
A: There’s no question that he’s a guy that flew under the radar a little bit maybe. He had a lot of offers out of high school; he was a 4 star recruit. Very well known in the state of Ohio. He’s always come and played with an attitude and a chip on his shoulder. I think you have to have that. The message here is you better overachieve if you come here. I don’t care what level of player you are, you need to overachieve and get better. And I think he’s done that.
Q: How much stock can you put into the star ranking? Darqueze only had 2 stars coming out of high school compared to Denicos that had 4.
A: I think it’s pretty well documented that you come in one way and you go out the other. You come in as a lamb, go out as a lion I guess…for some people. It’s what you do at the end of your career, not at the beginning. That’s the key thing. You recruit guys at the end of their high school career and you recruit through your system. That’s what we try and do. So we’re looking for a football player; we’re not looking for a specific position. We’re looking for a football player, and he may play other positions or he may play across the board. So we’re trying to identify those attributes and move forward. But it’s what they do while they’re here and how they develop. We’re a part of that development…our strength area is a part of the development…our competition level is part of that development. And then their intensity, what they bring intangibly to the table, is a big part of their development.
Q: Are you hearing from some of these NFL people about how Max’s suspension might affect his future?
A: I really haven’t talked to them. I made the statement that Max Bullough belongs at Michigan State, he’s a Spartan and I love him. So I’m gonna try and do everything I can. But he’s a football player, he’s a very controlling factor on the field…very, very controlling. So I think people understand that and will look at that aspect.
Q: I asked Darqueze what he was most proud of in his career and he said that it was that he played for you. What does that mean when you hear that?
A: That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of that…it’s very humbling. That’s what I strive to do. At the end of the day it’s the wins and the losses, even the Rose Bowl. It’s not gonna fade away for awhile, but it will fade and it will be about the relationships that we’ve developed here. That’s a young man that I’ll hopefully always have a relationship with and have a bond with, whether we see each other once every 3 years, 5 years, 1 month. That relationship is gonna exist because of the type of person he is and what he’s done here for us.
Q: He told me that there’s never been a person harder on him than you. But the fact that he loves you like he does talks about character.
A: There’s no entitlement here. We’re gonna treat all of our guys the same and we’re gonna make them earn their way to the top. He’s done that from day one. If I’ve been hard on him I’d hate to see what I’ve been on those other guys. But he’s a special person. As I said earlier, it’s about the intangibles that will really allow him to be a… He’ll be a 10 year pro because of the intangibles.
Q: Looking back, and taking football out of it, look how far he’s come as a human. It’s pretty amazing. Would you agree with that?
A: Yeah, Twiggs County, Georgia. We were just in my office yesterday talking for about 20-30 minutes. Raised by his mom but lived with his grandma and grandfather. His grandpa still hadn’t gotten on a plane and flew. So he’s come a long ways from the country. But it just goes to show you that these opportunities that our players have are life opportunities that really can shape a person’s life and make a difference, not just relative to football but relative to their whole life in general. It’s amazing that college football, college education, those types of things, can shape a person.
Q: Have you gotten any feedback on Andrew and what he may be able to do for himself?
A: I really don’t know. I let the scouts come in, they talk. I don’t sit there and talk to them too much. They’re about their business. But I think Andrew Maxwell has an opportunity. He’s a guy that’s got a great feel for football. He played a lot of football here for us. He does a great job in the huddle, he’s got a great arm. He’ll have a chance to impress people out here today. He’s gonna throw the ball extremely well.
Q: Can you talk about how Darqueze became on the radar?
A: I think it’s just like you heard…we were watching Keith Mumphery play and Dave Warner went and watched him play and saw Darqueze playing against him. Then we got the film and we started the process. I thought he had an offer to Tulsa. I guess he didn’t. But it didn’t really matter. We sent Coach Barnett down and watched him run on the rack a little bit and knew that he could run, knew that he was athletic. He caught the ball so fluidly, tackled very well. He played against pretty good competition…very good competition. Just felt like he would be a guy. And then after that, South Carolina and Illinois jumped in, but he stayed true to the Spartans. He’s one of the big reasons why we won a Rose Bowl, one of the big reasons.
Q: How big do you think Denicos Allen’s opportunity is and why do you think he kinda flew under the radar a little bit?
A: I think sometimes the measurables of a person…people get kinda hung up on the measurables. He’s not 6’1”, 225 lbs. He’s 5’10 ½”, 5’11”. I think Coach Tomlin just said it over there – there’s a whole bunch of guys in the NFL playing linebacker and they look like the guys that they’re tackling. They look like running backs. And that’s what he looks like. He looks like a tailback and they’re tackling guys like that. I think that’s a great correlation. You gotta be able to change on a dime. You gotta be able to run. You gotta be able to hit with power and that’s what Denicos can do. I think that’s the only reason he flew under the radar, maybe he’s not quite as tall as they wanted him to be, but he’s an extremely productive player.
Q: Will we see more guys like Denicos Allen now that we’re seeing so many more running quarterbacks? More read option, do you think? Is that where we’re headed?
A: I think you see that. I think you see that around athletic guys. I’m not sure what he ran over there, but he was running 4.5’s for us before. He’s a 450 lb. bench guy. I don’t know what he verticaled, but he’s got power. Anytime you have guys with great power and tenacity, you’ve got two great ingredients to be a linebacker.
Q: You’ve got a lot of guys in the NFL. How important is it for the program’s recruiting to continue to put guys in the NFL?
A: I think it’s important, but I think it’s more important that we put guys in the NFL to the longevity of this program in terms of wins and losses. Putting guys in the NFL means that you’ve got good players and usually winning follows that. I think it’s a pathway towards young people looking at our program and saying, Hey I can get there. But I would also say across the nation…they’re gonna find you. If you’re good enough, they’re gonna find you. I think the thing here is they understand that you’re gonna play in a market where… In a program that has mass media, so there’s a lot of media attention; great crowds, you have to play in front of big crowds; you have to play on a great league; and you play against national type competition. So they’re gonna play at the highest level of football, which makes a statement. When we recruit people I always ask our coaches what kind of competition do they play against. I would say it’s probably the same thing at the NFL. You’re looking at the best competition.
Q: The article that said you and Tom Izzo are the #1 coaching tandem in the country, how does that make you feel? What does it say about the program and where it’s at?
A: We’ve won a lot of football games. I guess that’s a nice thing to say. You’ve gotta prove it every year though, so…you’ve gotta prove it every year. But I’m very close with Coach Izzo, and what he’s done here is no short of phenomenal.
Q: Athlon ranked the Michigan State football coach job as the sixth best job in the Big 10 in terms of how hard it is to win or easy it is to win. You’ve obviously made it a better position. How has that happened where it’s climbed up even to number 6 from where it was?
A: We have players here who believe in themselves. I think we have an environment where our players can be productive and they can thrive and they get better, they develop. I think they feed off each other. I’ve said over and over, we’ve won here because of chemistry. We’ve got good people here that are striving to be the best. Right now there’s a culture of confidence here. Not just a culture of winning, but there’s a culture of confidence.
Q: Can you talk about Micajah Reynolds and how you’ve seen him progress to where he is now?
A: Yeah, I had Micajah run the running test when he came out here to make sure he could run it before we offered him on his third trip to camp. He’s a great athlete. He’s a guy that’s got a vertical of 33” and then I think he may bench press 500 lbs. He’s a 300 lb. guy. He’s played on the offensive line a little bit for us. He played defensive line the last two years. I thought he had a great year. So I think it’s gonna be an opportunity for him. He’s gotta do well when he gets into camp. It’s the next step, so it’s extremely competitive.
Q: The fact that he came to Michigan State three times and earned that offer…how do you feel that work ethic helped him?
A: I think he’s got a good, solid work ethic. It’s obviously gonna help him as he takes the next step.
Q: Had Michigan State run a different system this year, could Andrew Maxwell have easily been the quarterback and led you guys to some great heights? Maybe if you guys would have gone with more of a pure pocket?
A: I think there’s a lot of things that go into playing football. You’ve gotta be able to create in college these days. The fact that we had no tailback identity at the beginning of the season enters into this even more. Because we had no identity at tailback…now we’ve developed an identity as the season went along…but because we had no identity initially – I mean, who were we gonna hand the ball to? We weren’t gonna hand the ball to a guy 200 times at that point in the season. And that’s what led to a lot of the decision-making: having the quarterback go live in the spring because we had to find a guy who was gonna create, whether it be he or somebody else, making it as realistic as we could because of what they were gonna see in the fall. And there’s risk in doing things like that. I think Andrew Maxwell is a great college quarterback. He’s got a great arm, he’s a good athlete, he’s got a great handle of an offense, he understands the football game. I don’t think he’s done as a football player. I think he’s motivated to play beyond.
Q: Not being a starter at Michigan State doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t make it into a club, right?
A: No. I think Connor Cook did a tremendous job this year. I think he ends up second team All-League MVP in the Big 10 Championship game in the Rose Bowl. So we’ve got other quarterbacks too.
Q: I saw a quote on a podcast you did where you told Connor you didn’t want him to get complacent, and then a week later he’s in San Diego at Whitfield’s QB Camp. Is there a little cause and effect there perhaps?
A: I don’t think so. I think he’s looking for, like many of our guys, looking for opportunities to get better. So he presented the opportunity and I said yeah go ahead, let’s go. Go on and try it. Just don’t take away from what you’re doing here to try and get better.
Q: With a guy like Tyler Hoover who has the numbers as far as the physical makeup, what’s gonna be the difference for him maybe making it or not making it?
A: Tyler’s a big guy. He can go anywhere from 310-315 lbs to 280. So he can fluctuate his weight; he has the ability to control his weight. A lot of things… Is he gonna stay healthy? He’s a tough guy, he’s a very quick learner. What kind of defense is he gonna play in? Is he gonna play a 5 technique in a 3-4 or is he gonna play in a 4-3 and be defensive tackle or nose? So a lot of it depends on where he goes and the opportunities that are afforded him, really. That’s usually the case with a lot of this stuff. They’re limited with rosters as they go. They’ve got experienced veterans. So a lot of it is who stays healthy, can they stay healthy, what scheme are they in, who they’re bringing in. So a lot of this is a little bit undecided right now. But I think Tyler Hoover can be a professional football player. I just think he’s wired to do that. He’s very motivated.
Q: What would you say about this Senior class? Bullough’s talked a lot about changing national perception. The Top 10 polls say that perception has changed, and a lot of these guys have changed that. How do you…
A: Yeah, our Senior class is the winningest class in Michigan State history. So that’s a statement in itself. They helped changed the culture. Now I think the culture was evolving and changing from the 2007 class on, but I think they continued to set the mark higher, the bar higher. But it was 2010 when they were freshmen, 2011 when they were sophomores, step back in ’12, re-establish themselves in ’13. So when you look at that, they’ve set the bar.