Photo: Khari Willis
Many numbers describe Mark Dantonio’s success re-awakening a Michigan State football program that once stood game among the college game’s giants in the 1950s and 1960s under Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty. Dantonio's resume is summarized in three paragraphs on MSUSpartans.com (see below) as he enters his 12th season in East Lansing.
But now, following the Big Ten media days Tuesday and Wednesday in Chicago, there are significant off-field numbera to list: two, eight and 14. For the second time in the past eight years in a 14-team conference, a Dantonio player was selected as the keynote speaker at the Big Ten luncheon. Do the math.
This year the Big Ten choice was Michigan State senior safety Khari Willis. In 2011, it was Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins. Schools nominate their athlete to represent the conference at the annual luncheon before 1,300 fans. The conference makes the choice from that list.
"I was honored and I count it as a privilege," Willis said after the Wednesday luncheon, “especially to be at Michigan State during this time and to be able to speak on behalf of my fellow Spartans and Spartan Nation.”
Additionally, Dantonio recruited Willis and Cousins from Michigan high schools: Willis from Jackson Lumen Christi and Cousins Holland Christian. They also are examples of Dantonio’s keen eye for otherwise overlooked talent. Cousins and Willis were both rated as three-star prospects without offers from Michigan or other Big Ten schools. Cousins is entering his seventh NFL season, Willis is a returning starter and All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2017.
Willis' teammates joining him In Chicago were junior quarterback Brian Lewerke and senior running back L.J. Scott. Dantonio was asked to comment on all three off-podium in video posted on Spartanmag.com.
“Every year I struggle with who to bring. This year has been difficult; we have some outstanding leaders we left home. David Dowell, Felton Davis, Cole Chewins – a lot of guys, Matt Sokel --guys that have played a lot of football for us and guys who are big in term s of who they are, Joe Bachie, on our football team.
“Khari Willis is a tremendous individual. He’s extremely disciplined. He’s faith-drive as a person. He’ got great chemistry with our football team.
Brian Lewerke is a proven winner and another guy seen as a leader on our team. We vote for our leadership group, which consists of 12 people, four or five times year, and he’s in that group with a high number of votes.
L.J .Scott is a starter for four years and very productive. I wanted to see growth. I want him to understand what this is all about – the size and scope of the Big Ten Conference. Put him at the center of attention and see how he reacts. It will be good for him. He’s done a great job in school and preparing for senior year. He made a great statement not just about himself but for our program when he decided to come back. He made the decision at the bowl game. I think that warrants it.”
The trio, highlighted by Willis, also can be viewed as a stark contrast to the scrutiny the program came under in the off-season following the sex scandal trial of Larry Nassar, a disgraced former Michigan State doctor that was convicted. Nassar never has been involved with the football program, but a series of ESPN stories entitled “Spartan Secrets” conflated the Nassar/USA Gymnastics scandal with the football and basketball programs.
Here are Dantionio’s on-field numbers from MSUSpartans.com:
“Dantonio has won the most Big Ten Championships (three) and bowl games (five) of any Spartan head coach and also ranks first with 10 bowl appearances. He is the only Big Ten coach to win multiple Big Ten Championships (2010, 2013, 2015), claim a victory in the Rose Bowl (2014), and coach in the College Football Playoff (2015). The second-winningest coach in school history, trailing only Hall of Famer Duffy Daugherty, Dantonio owns a 100-45 (.690) record at MSU since his arrival in 2007. Dantonio also ranks first in program history in conference winning percentage (.667, 60-30 record, minimum 10 games), tied for first in AP Top 25 finishes (seven), second in Big Ten wins (60), home wins (59) and AP Top 25 victories (20), and fifth in overall winning percentage (.690).
“Dantonio won his 100th game as head coach at Michigan State with a 42-17 victory over No. 18 Washington State in the 2017 Holiday Bowl and is one of just eight active FBS coaches to own at least 100 victories at his current school. He is just nine victories shy from tying Daugherty, who coached at MSU from 1954-72, for the most wins in school history (109).
“Dantonio's incredible run at Michigan State ranks among the best in Big Ten history. Dantonio is one of just six Big Ten coaches to have at least six 10-win seasons on their resume (Bo Schembechler, Michigan; Jim Tressel, Ohio State; Joe Paterno, Penn State; Lloyd Carr, Michigan; Urban Meyer, Ohio State) and one of four to have at least five 11-win seasons (Tressel, Paterno, Meyer). Dantonio is also one of just 14 coaches in Big Ten history to record 100 victories.”
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Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.