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August 8, 2016

Mark Dantonio

East Lansing, Michigan

COACH DANTONIO: Good afternoon. I think, what was it, yesterday or two days ago we talked. Had a chance to talk to the Big Ten Network, I can't imagine what questions I'm going to be asked today.

We started off well on Saturday, Sunday. Then first day of shells today. I thought it was a good practice. Sort of picked up where we left off a little bit. A lot of the guys working. See good things out there. You see things that need to be corrected.

Our goals are all in sight. I think the most exciting thing about every college football camp right now is it sort of starts over. That's the thing I said at the Big Ten meetings as well. You have a starting point. Where you go from here will be determined by a lot of different things, by injuries, how you play with confidence, how you play under pressure.

2016 looks to be an exciting year. We'll look to go back-to-back as I said, go from there.

I'll take some questions and we'll go from there.

Q. After the spring, several of your players talked about Tyler O'Connor's confidence. From your standpoint, because he's been here so long, his fifth here, what is it about his confidence that seems to have established himself?
COACH DANTONIO: I think first of all, when you're a quarterback, especially with the amount of success that our quarterbacks have had in high school as they've come through, then being in the program, but especially as they come through most of their life, they develop leadership skills.

Tyler is a good leader. He always has been. He's taken that aspect of our program and it really doesn't start now, it sort of started in February. He was in the quarterback competition in '13. He had his opportunities. He had his time sort of to step out there a little bit.

He's not a guy that all of a sudden is just here. He's played and he's been heavily involved in our offense. I think he's done that. He's done a nice job with that.

But as I've said before, we're going to allow things to progress naturally with that position. But he's our leader right now, our headline guy at the quarterback position. We're going to play it out.

Q. In some ways, does O'Connor epitomize what you've tried to establish with this program? Three years ago didn't win the quarterback job, could have transferred. He stuck around. If he stays, he only has the starting job for one year.
COACH DANTONIO: We've been fortunate with our quarterback situation. We haven't had many guys transfer. We had the one episode where Nick Foles left and Keith Nichol was coming. But other than that, our guys have stayed true to staying the course. Tyler is a great example of that. Look forward for that paying off for him.

Again, you have to make plays on the field. He did epitomize a little bit about what we're about. He's a hard-working guy. He's done a nice job with the press. Our players have respect for him. He's got toughness, can run with the football. He's a big, physical guy. I think he's got a bright future for us.

Q. When you walk through the building, there are pictures of rings, trophies. They announced it's your 10th year. How much different is it recruiting kids when you're pitching rings and trophies and proof now than it was back when you started?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, it's pretty much like I said. We can sell results, we really can. We can sit there and say, This is what we've done, these are the things you can look forward to if you come to school at Michigan State. There's opportunities for you. We play young guys, old guys, guys in between. Everybody gets an equal opportunity with that. We're going to play our best players.

That's really the difference there. Early on in the process, that was not the case. But now it seems like that's what we sell. I think our coaches have great relationships with the guys who we recruit. I think that's because we have great relationships with our current players.

Q. When you think about 10 of these introductory conferences, your first weeks of practice, what is distinctive about this?
COACH DANTONIO: This season?

Q. Yes.
COACH DANTONIO: I guess 10 seems like a long time. At the other end of the spectrum, you're always starting over. You're sort of fresh. You've got new players that are coming. It sort of keeps you moving forward.

There's always excitement in college football. That's the nature of it. I think being an NFL coach for 10 years would seem a little bit longer than maybe being a college coach for 10 years just because there's always a newness to the program. We have new facilities, new players. We've had some new coaches, not many. But there's always a little bit of something in the program that's stepping forward.

As far as for myself, again, I just wind 'em up and go again.

Q. I was thinking in terms of the team that you're greeting this year.
COACH DANTONIO: Football team?

Q. Yes.
COACH DANTONIO: Got a lot of players back who started last year. I think 31-players-plus probably back from a team that was 12-2. We lost some very good players. It's going to be exciting to watch some of our redshirted freshmen guys and true freshmen guys make statements because there's opportunities there. It should be exciting.

I'm looking forward to watching our guys. We have championship dreams here. We dream big. That's the way it will always be here. We'll have our opportunities.

Q. You have a very unique situation with your tailbacks where you have three guys that can possibly start for you. This year are you hoping that somebody rises to the top or will it be a tailback by committee again?
COACH DANTONIO: I really like the fact that we have three because if a guy gets dinged up. Delton Williams has come back now. He missed some time last year. He's come back as a fullback, tailback type guy. He's the fourth. Nick Tompkins is the fifth.

Those top three guys, they're all capable of carrying the ball 30 times a game and being the feature back. That's a good problem to have if you're the coach. I know everybody wants to play. But we've done a good job I think trying to work everybody in there, and the go-to guy becomes the guy with the hot hand. I think we've had each of those guys be the hot guy.

Madre was that guy in the Oregon game. I'm just picking out a couple games. Gerald was that guy in the Ohio State game. LJ was that guy in the Iowa game. They've all had their moments. They're all good players. They all run with authority. They all pass protect and block well. Really complete football players.

Q. Looking back over the 10 years, when you accepted the job, none of the amenities that are here were here, the trophies weren't here. Have you been able to process what the 10 years have been like for you when you're trying to move forward or is it something you have to wait till later?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you wait till later. I think we're always a work in progress here. We're always going to try to do something else. We have a big renovation, a million-plus renovation with our weight room. It's already incredible. You have seen it. We have that going on.

There's always going to be something we're going to try to establish here in our physical plant, and there's always going to be something else we need to shoot for with what we have to do with our football team as well. That's human nature. You're always going to try to go a little bit farther.

We've had success here. We can sell that, as I said earlier. With that being said, I think you always need to aspire to be a little bit better or go a little bit farther. That's the way we need to be built here.

Q. You mentioned the depth this year's team can have. Last year because of injury, you played a lot of different guys. Because of that, is this one of the more experienced units you'll have?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it is. On the defensive side of the ball we started seven different players. I think we go pretty deep at safety, at corner. We moved some guys around a little bit. Vayante Copeland is back. That's a big plus. Tyson Smith is another year older. Darian Hicks was a guy injured three different times, he's back playing well. Nicholson, Arcuri, Miller, Demetrious Cox, they've all started for us in big games. That's really just the tip of it.

Our linebacker situation is very solid as well. Ed Davis is coming. We'll get that squared away. My plans are, he's going to be a factor here.

So we've got enough good people up front, so we should be good.

Q. At the top of your depth chart you have a forgotten man, Monty Madaris. What are you hoping to get out of him this season? Where has his head been throughout the last four years?
COACH DANTONIO: He's stayed the course. I was talking to our football team, You got to stay healthy in fall camp, especially as a freshman. I think he got hurt on his second or third day with an ankle, he was out for six weeks or something like that. His freshman year went bust right there. If you can't stay healthy as a freshman, you can't learn. Then the next step is very difficult to go.

He's gotten hurt a little bit. He's played behind some very talented players. He made some plays last year. He has great ability, big guy, extremely fast. Done a nice job of catching the ball down the field. Right now he's our starter. I think he'll have a great year.

We had that happen with Bennie Fowler. I think he's comparable with Bennie Fowler in a lot of ways, speed, size, what he's been able to accomplish here. Bennie had a huge senior year, had been hurt a couple times early in his year. I think Monty had that issue as well, maybe two different times.

Q. You've talked a lot over the years about trying to maintain once you've been at the top of the mountain. Was it tougher in the mid 2000s to build to this or has it been tougher the last four years in keeping it there and probably dealing more with the spotlight and media than you care to?
COACH DANTONIO: I think they're both difficult. I don't know which one's easier to be honest with you. I think you need to be consistent. What we want to do is win a championship, then the next thing we want to do is prove ourselves to be consistent winners. I think we're doing that.

But there's always that next step. We've done it the last three years certainly. You could make a case that we've done it for nine years. We won 87 games in nine years, do the math.

But I think you always start over. Again, that's what's so special about starting every season, about August. You start with your dreams, new dreams, new people. You tweak things, you critique things, you have new opponents on your schedule, you have opponents on your schedule with differences as well. I think it all changes. I think you just have an opportunity to start fresh.

The competition that we play is always going to be difficult. I mean, there are good football teams that we play. Winning by 10 points is not, Oh, they won by a lot. That's a close game by where I sit.

Competition's tough. The east division is very tough. A lot of good football teams. Extremely well-coached league across the board. You see a lot of people with dreams, as well.

Q. You had some losses on defense, but some key players back, especially with the linebacking corps. Can this defense be as good? Do you have the players in place to be as good as last year?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we have the players in place to be as good or better than last year, I do. We have some guys that are younger players that need to fill in. Our freshmen class defensive line-wise has got to learn. You see they're very unique players with certain skill sets.

After one day of shells, it's a little bit too difficult to say who is going to help us, who is not going to help us at this point in time that's new.

I do think our linebacker group and secondary group has experience. Experience is not just playing in one game, it's being able to adjust from game to game to game. I think we're able to do that. They have a lot of playing time and minutes behind them. That should come into play in the process here.

Q. When you have a player like Malik who is getting so much national attention, is that a conversation you need to have, how to handle the attention?
COACH DANTONIO: I think with success comes even more responsibility. When it's pointed out to you that you're of that vein, that ability, then you have to play to that ability. That's a challenge that everybody hopes to have in their football career. You hope to get to that point where you need to play like a first team All-American. He can and he should. I believe he will.

But everybody has different aspects of their game that they need to take a step forward. I've always tried to say, Hey, everybody here needs to overachieve, regardless of their level of ability. If they can do that, then really great things are possible.

Q. Do you see more maturity out of him?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I have. I've seen him grow. He's only in his third year, going into his third year. A guy with a lot of ability and a guy with a lot of attention, national attention. So it's tough to manage all that. But I've seen him grow.

Q. Jalen Watts-Jackson, what are your expectations for him?
COACH DANTONIO: He's a very good athlete. He's out there. He's an explosive player. He's working at safety. He's a guy that obviously had the huge play last year which catapulted him to folklore attention. I think he's a great football player. Great ball skills. He can tackle. He's tough. He's a redshirt sophomore. Has a bright future. Got to stay healthy like everybody as you go through this.

Thus far there's no indication of his hip being a problem whatsoever. He's moving really well.

Q. A lot of talk about injuries so far. Did you look at that at all and adjust anything you're doing?
COACH DANTONIO: Injury-wise?

Q. Yes.
COACH DANTONIO: No. You know, we do what we do. I think you got to play the game of football in camp some to get better and be ready to play in the fall. You can't just line up and say, We've gone thud and never tackled and did these things. You have to play. But we try to do it in a controlled environment - try. First day of shells, first day of pads, everybody wants to hit. That's what players want to do, they want to get after each other.

We try to take the edge off of that aspect a little bit. But it sort of is what it is. It's always been that way. So we're going to play hard.

Q. With this being year 10 for you, are you feeling good and refreshed, good for another 10 years or so?
COACH DANTONIO: Another 10? Another 10? I don't know about 10. I got something left in me.

Q. The defensive line has some gaps. You have six new guys there. What have you seen in the first few days from them? What kind of expectations do you have? It's a tough position to learn.
COACH DANTONIO: What we try and do is we try and put our players in chaotic situations as much as we can. We put them in controlled environments, then take them and put them in areas of chaos where they have to get lined up, they have to play fast, they have to adjust, they have to make the call changes and things of that nature.

Early on in the process, it sort of starts to overwhelm guys a little bit. We need to understand that as we go through it. But our linebackers and the secondary are in on that, and they're more experienced.

I guess it's still out a little bit on who would help us from a new player. But they have the skill level to be able to play. They have that skill level. What they have to do is be able to be consistent, stay injury-free in fall camp, then as I always tell them, The game of football is played with your knees bent, you have to be fast and you have to have shock. If you can do those things, you can play, then you have to know what to do. But that's all relative a little bit. Guys can play in and out of there a little bit, get experience, that will be a positive thing for them.

They're very good players. It's just a matter of when they hit that moment in time where they accelerate the learning, I guess I'd say.

Q. What has it been like since you started your camp with the Big Ten Network being here? Is this showing the progress of your program, the maturity of your players, that they're able to handle outside people watching them?
COACH DANTONIO: Really, I watched them last year, what they did. I thought they did a great job. I thought it was very well done. So that's why we did it. I think it brought an added element to our camp a little bit. They're in and out. For example, they're not here today. They're in and out I think three different times.

It's another step in the process a little bit. Gives us a little bit of exposure for our recruits, for our fan base. Shows the inside of Michigan State football a little bit. I think it shows our personality a little bit. Maybe that's it as much as anything.

I don't think we're doing anything earth-shattering. But I think it shows our personality as people a little bit, shows how we run our program.

I thought it would be a good thing to do. We're going to do it and see how it goes.

Q. What kind of player can Vayante Copeland be? What does he bring this year that you were missing last year?
COACH DANTONIO: Vayante first of all has his weight down, he's 192 pounds. 400-meter champion in the state of Ohio. He can run, physical player, great ball skills. He's a very confident player.

I think going into last year, he was a redshirt freshman. Thought he had a very good first game, was on the verge I think of being probably one of our more consistent guys. I think he brings that to the table. He's a very focused guy.

If you're going to have a good defense, you have to have guys that can be part of the field, tackle in space, get off blocks and run, and they have to be able to play under control as well. I think he's able to do that. I think he has a great future ahead of him.

Q. You talked a lot about your program, players needing to make the most of the opportunities they get. Is part of the fun of coaching see who takes the baton next? When Kirk Cousins left, you were going to fall off the map. Is that part of the challenge and fun that you have?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it is. It's a statement for your program that you're here to stay. Go back to what you talk about, your culture. Culture is consistency, whether that's winning or losing, it's doing something over and over. Right now we have a culture of winning. We need to continue to do that.

We have certain players, Donnie Corley is an explosive player, a true freshman, been here for a semester, but you can see him making plays out there, he fits in with our guys that have been here. You got some other young players that are exciting to watch, that need to learn what to do, but you can see that they have great talent. We need to work those guys.

We have the tailback situation we talked about, quarterbacks, but there's a lot of positions like that. You can almost take every single position and say, Look at that guy, look what he can do. His game has either been elevated or he's a brand-new guy.

Q. The young receiver corps, you have guys like Corley and Chambers. Where do they fit into the rotation?
COACH DANTONIO: Again, a little bit too early to tell. Based on the spring, I thought Cam and Donnie did very, very well. They understand the system. Justin Layne and Trishton Jackson come in, they've been exciting to watch, as well. But there's a lot of guys.

So we're going to have to wait to see in terms of how things shake out, really get through the next week. A week seems like a relatively short time, but in fall camp, that's a long time. There's a lot of work to be done.

But I think they have the skill set, no question.

Q. Several of the guys talked about Corley's ability in the spring when he had the ball, elusiveness. Even though he's a true freshman, would you consider him for a punt returner's job?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah. Off punts, off jugs, off punts. They are going to be considered. Donnie Corley is an exciting player whether it's punts or kickoffs.

Q. One loss that doesn't get a lot of attention is Taybor. Talk about the battle for your long snapper's job.
COACH DANTONIO: Colin Caflish, redshirted last year, he's done a nice job. Ryan Armour is in camp as well. He seems to be doing a nice job as well. I think that that position will be secured.

Taybor did an outstanding job for four years. He's a guy that we've got to replace. Again, that's the nature of college football these days.

Q. It seems pretty natural to look at the middle linebacker position and see Riley produce a lot. How much different is he than Max? Seems like their personalities are way different. How does that relate to the other guys on the team?
COACH DANTONIO: All three of those Bulloughs are the same in a lot of ways but also different. Riley, very excitable guy on the field. Fifth-year senior. Has played multiple positions. Played a little tailback for us, if you guys remember. Played outside backer some. Has great leadership skills.

Byron right now is a redshirt freshman. You can see I think he's one of our most improved players. I thought he had a great spring. He's a very solid football player. Is he a number two or number three right now? I can't say that. But he's going to play football for us.

Again, like with all the Bulloughs, playing here at Michigan State is very important to them.

Q. You mention culture all the time. With some of the guys that you lost, how much do you get the sense this year's team wants to make sure that they're not the ones to see the culture shift?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that's pretty common with every football team when it gets to be their time, it's their senior class. There are expectations that go with that. So the challenge is if you're a senior to have your best career year as a Spartan. That's what we've been able to do.

Really each senior class has risen the bar in terms of how many games that senior class has won. This last year's team won the most. Even going back to Kirk Cousins' senior season, the '13 team, the '14 and then the '15. Those are positives for us.

I think there is pressure there. That's good. Want them to have pressure. Want them to take ownership. I think when you empower people and they take ownership, you get your best effort. At the end of the day that's all I ask for is their best effort. If it's not good enough, we deal with it.

Q. Back to the runningbacks quick. What does Gerald Holmes have that may be able to help separate himself? What kind of skills does he have to separate himself?
COACH DANTONIO: They're all different types of tailbacks. That's the case. Madre is a little bit more of a slasher. LJ is a quick-cut guy, vertical guy. Gerald, he runs his feet on contact. He's got good vision, he can run away from you, all that kind of stuff, but he will run his feet on contact. He's gotten great after contact for us.

I really can't say what's going to separate guys. It might be their pass protection. Might be how they catch the back out of the backfield. It might be how they're playing that particular game. But they're all considered starters. We have all three of them back. Collectively as a group, it may be as deep as there is in the country.

Thank you, guys.

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