If you’re a defensive back recruit with dreams of playing in the NFL, you can’t go wrong in choosing Michigan State.
East Lansing is the Promised Land for those looking to break into the NFL as a defensive back.
Head coach Mark Dantonio played defensive back at South Carolina and originally coached defensive backs before a promotion to defensive coordinator and then head coach.
Secondary coach Harlon “Da Bang Stick” Barnett starred at defensive back at Michigan State in the NFL. Barnett struck fear in receivers, running backs and quarterbacks, as the Spartan grad played with amazing ferocity.
Under these two talented coaches, Michigan State’s secondary has grown into one of the best units in the nation, earning the nickname “No Fly Zone.”
Barnett recently spoke with Hondo S. Carpenter, discussing the team’s next crop of stars charged with replacing standouts such as Darqueze Dennard and Isaiah Lewis. Like Dantonio, Barnett is excited to watch the next generation of MSU defensive backs grow up.
The idea of “next man up” has become a popular phrase in East Lansing. Ever since Kyler Elsworth stepped in at middle linebacker in the Rose Bowl, everyone is using the phrase.
“We have a program where it’s next man up. That’s the program we have,” Barnett said. “In the good programs, the next guy steps in and they never miss a beat. So we’re going to find a lot out this year.”
With the losses of Dennard and Lewis to graduation, a number of defensive backs will be looking to snag starting positions.
At the safety position, Demetrious Cox and RJ Williamson will be battling to earn Lewis’ old starting spot.
“Demetrious is doing well. That’s a good little battle also,” Barnett said. “RJ does have the game experience edge on him right now, but it’s a good battle, which just makes everyone better.”
The battle at cornerback for Dennard’s spot will be even more intense. A number of Spartans will be vying for playing time at the starting spot opposite Trae Waynes.
“Darian Hicks, [Arjen] Colquhoun, [Ezra] Robertson and Jermaine Edmondson are all battling to be the guy,” Barnett said. “They all know that. Right now, I would say that Darian probably has the edge, and it’s about staying consistent. They all can make plays, they all can run well. When we get into scrimmage situations, even in the midst of practice, who can tackle and get guys on the ground, as well as cover, and do what they’re supposed to do? They know what the deal is, and may the best man win.”
The two established starters, Waynes at corner and Kurtis Drummond at safety, have also greatly impressed Barnett in spring practice.
“Kurtis is doing really well. He keeps improving and he works hard. He wants to be really good, and that’s good,” Barnett said. “Trae’s confidence is through the roof right now, I can see it in him and he continues to play really well.”
One concept Barnett will be working on with his players during spring practice is aggressiveness.
Barnett was known for it during his time as a hard-hitting safety at MSU and in the NFL. Coaching the attribute is not as easy.
“It’s a mindset. As a coach, you can put it in the players a little bit,” Barnett said. “You coach confidence to the point where if [a player] gives something up, and it’s one time, I’ll say, ‘Hey, come back, you’re better than that,’ whatever you need to say to keep them motivated. When they know that you truly feel confident in them and their abilities, their confidence goes up.”
The Spartan Nation has reason to be excited about MSU’s next crop of defensive backs. The No Fly Zone version 2.0 is ready to take off.
Barnett is just as excited to watch his secondary thrive once again.
“I’m most happy with the older guys, obviously, but some of the younger guys are retaining information from practice to practice,” Barnett said. “Sometimes in the past it was, ‘Hey, we just talked about this yesterday.’ But they’re retaining the information fairly well and I’m encouraged by that.”
However, one question naturally pops up in response to Barnett’s statement. What is Da Bang Stick most discouraged by?
“Nothing,” Barnett said.