Spartan Nation Exclusive: One on One with Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio
Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr: I know you can’t talk specifically about recruits, but if signing day were today is fourteen the number of recruits that you’re gauging toward for this class?
Mark Dantonio: Yeah, fourteen is the number of seniors that we have. You’re always gonna have a little bit of attrition. You’re always gonna gear it towards, as you said, if a player goes out. You tend to make those… Those become realizations to you late in the game, January 1 or 5 or something like that. But fourteen is the number, so not very many. Which that’s two-fold…one, you can look at it and say that it’s a really good sign because your football team is coming back and returning a lot of players and you’ve built depth. And then you’ve got the other aspect of your recruiting numbers. You’re not gonna bring as many players in…it’s a smaller class. But that’s just the way it’s gone. We’ve had some guys redshirt. Taiwan Jones’s class has had 22 players in it, 21. I think he was the only player that played, so all those other guys were redshirted and they became seniors. The class after Taiwan’s class, there’s a couple guys playing. So we’ve got some 4-year players in there and that type of thing.
HONDO: Talking to people around your program, they say that Darien Harris and DeAnthony Arnett have had the best off-season since the Rose Bowl. Do you echo those sentiments?
DANTONIO: The best? There’s a lot of guys that have had really good springs or good fall camps. I would say that there’s guys that have put themselves in positions to play. I think DeAnthony’s in a very competitive situation with the number of wide receivers that are there. He’s gotta come in and have a great camp, but be very confident and play fast. Darien Harris, much the same thing. He has the experience, has some Rose Bowl experience as well, but where’s he gonna play? Is he gonna play outside, is he gonna play inside? But I really think that Darien Harris has really stepped forward from the leadership standpoint too and should be an excellent player for us.
HONDO: Every time you and Narduzzi have talked about the middle this off-season, it’s still unsure. Do you consider that spot settled? Or do you still not know?
DANTONIO: I think we don’t know right now because there needs to be improvement made from the spring. It’s a different position than the outside linebacker position because it’s in the center of things. So there’s different reads, it’s more of a position that, by nature of the position, you have to take more command. So you have to know everybody’s alignment, not just what you’re doing. When you’re thinking like that it slows you down. And if you’re slowed down, good things are usually not gonna follow. We’re gonna try and transition him to the mike linebacker position. I think what we’ve gotta look at is see how is he improved over the course of the summer, by watching film and doing different things, How has he improved, and then watch him early in summer camp. Because I don’t think there’s any question that he was a solid outside backer for us and we don’t want to move him into the frame and have him not be productive. I think we also have other players inside that could possibly play that position that have experience there, Darien Harris being one of them. So the decision just has to be made, but we can flip those guys and be right back to where we were and be solid. I think that’s a decision that I’ll be involved in, but Coach Narduzzi and Coach Tressel will be very, very much involved in.
HONDO: What’s the biggest weak point on this team?
DANTONIO: Weak point? Coaching. Head coaching.
HONDO: That’s a good political answer.
DANTONIO: I’d say you’d have to look at every aspect of all the different positions. I really think that the weak point on the team might be the inexperience of certain players that are coming in new. But as I said earlier in interviews today, we were very concerned when Darqueze Dennard took the field for the first time as a freshman. We have players here just waiting for those opportunities. Whether it’s RJ Shelton…a very, very good player. But he hasn’t hit full stride on the offensive side of the ball yet. Or whether it’s DeAnthony Arnett or Aaron Burbridge, or certainly Mumphery and Macgarrett Kings and Tony Lippett have their time. There’s 6 guys right there. So we’ve got good players, the weakness on the team right now is certain positions don’t have a lot of experience. I would say right now our linebacker position, as such, because we lost so many reps with Denicos Allen and Max Bullough, so many reps, and even Kyler Ellsworth we lost a lot of reps. So guys like Ed Davis are gonna stand up and be starters. He’s an extremely talented player as we saw in the Championship game. But still now, he’s gonna be a starter so he’s gotta play like a starter.
HONDO: When you first got here you used a lot of duct tape, super glue, and band-aids to hold the program together. You’re sitting here now being talked about Top 10 team, potential national title contender. You have players that will not play next year, who will play in the NFL. Are you able to appreciate how far this program has come under you?
DANTONIO: Sometimes I step back and I do. I look from the outside in and I think we’ve grown. I look around, I look at the physical buildings and the physical facilities that we have now that we didn’t have back then. The support we have now that maybe was a little bit splintered back then. But the one thing that I remember saying is that if we can just all go in the same direction and not splinter apart…I say this all the time…that great things are possible here because of the tradition. Even though it was 50 years ago, or even 26 years ago when George Perles was here, it existed. There was a feeling and a very proud alumni base here, very solid fan base here. I knew that if we just got things in the right order that we could be successful. And then once we started doing that… Really, it started with probably 2010. It all comes after being able to weather a storm. But even 2010 we started to develop a culture and chemistry. I think that’s what we have. I just think that it’s innate now. We have a culture here. There are expectations here. You wanna watch how our players have changed? Not changed, but how our players have…I don’t wanna say elevated themselves…go watch them work camp and coach in camp. Go watch them coach. Go watch them lead. Go watch them have an attention to detail relative to their techniques. It’s extremely impressive to watch how they’ve grown as, not as young men, but into men. And that’s what we have right now. We have guys like Shilique Calhoun, or all these guys, Kurtis Drummond out there. I’m watching them coach. They do a great job.