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August 30, 2016

Mark Dantonio

East Lansing, Michigan

COACH DANTONIO: I think every opening game has got to have a great attention to detail. You've got to play with enthusiasm. You've got to play with great effort. Got a chance to see where everybody's at, younger players, older players and it's an exciting opportunity for everybody to move forward. Exciting for the fans, as well, as we move forward.

Furman comes into the football game. You know, they have played in big games there. This is the first time they have played in the Big Ten Conference itself, having played at South Carolina, I'm very familiar with Furman University. Outstanding university. Coach Fowler is in his sixth year now.

So when you're in year No. 6, you have a tendency is to critique things, have concepts in place and have your program in place. So it's not like they are guessing some things. They know what works. They know what does not work. They have new personnel just like we do, but they also have a lot of players returning.

Their entire front is returning, great safety in Robinson; linebacker Wright; Rider is returning, as well. Two quarterbacks with experience, one is a three-year captain, lose a little bit as an offensive backfield but their offensive line is intact.

And so we are looking for a great football game, and again, I think main focus has to be for our football team, is this is a starting point as we move forward here.

With that being said, I'll just take some questions and we'll go from there.

Q. Hannon, their captain, he's a four-year captain, their starting quarterback, I was interviewing him on a radio show the other day and they mentioned when they were recruiting him to Furman, they sent him Kirk Cousins Big Ten speech and said, we think you're a lot like this guy, faith off the field, the kind of quarterback he was; and now to be able to come play in his stadium, what does it say about the program you've established now that they are using your players to recrit guys at other schools?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we have 34 players in NFL camps right now. Obviously today is a big day for a lot of those guys, but Kirk is a franchise player for the Redskins. I think he's that, not just because he's a great player but because he brings so many other things to the table, as well. That was recognized here, and I think that's recognized across America right now, when you say the name Kirk Cousins it speaks more -- that that's a testament to this program and what he was able to accomplish here. You know, at least he'll get an opportunity to be here and it will be exciting for him.

Q. Kevin Williams, defensive tackle, what have you seen from him in camp that has allowed him to make the leap to starter and can you talk about your plans for Raequan, bouncing back and forth between the two spots?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm not ready to announce anybody as a starter, either, at this point. He's in the mix. He's a co-starter. Whether he starts or whether one of those other two guys start in there is really -- will be determined at game time. I can just say he's had a great camp. He can play at a very high level, and he fits in our scheme.

So he's going to be a good player for us and then we'll have to see whether he does actually start the game or not start the game. But listing on the depth chart, really, we've just got to put somebody in there first, so we'll start from there.

Q. This is becoming an ongoing thing, but any update on Davis at this point going into the first week?
COACH DANTONIO: Paperwork is in. So waiting on the paperwork and he'll continue to progress because he isn't allowed to practice. So he's progressing in terms of getting his knee right and just getting back into shape. We'll see where that's at here. We should know something very soon.

Q. All four freshmen receivers are listed; each might see some action this first week, or still up in the air?
COACH DANTONIO: It's tough because when you look at freshmen, you want to make sure they are going to play a lot of time this fall, a lot of snaps. So if you're going to put a guy in there for one or two plays and not play him the rest of the year, I don't think that's good. So we have to make a determination as we move forward.

I don't anticipate those guys playing if we're way ahead, unless we're going to play them the rest of the year and I can't say that. Donnie Corley is going to play. The other three, we'll see what happens. They may play, they may not. We're going to see how that all shakes out as we move forward here. Probably this game, maybe next.

Q. Any separation in camp with your three running backs or are you still looking at them on equal footing?
COACH DANTONIO: I think all three of those guys have the opportunity to be great players and we've got to give them the opportunity to be the guy.

So there may be a little bit of separation relative to the different scrimmages that we've had but overall, I'd say we'll play any of them or all three of them or any one of them. So we'll go with the hot hand as we always do, and see who is playing the best in that particular moment.

Q. Going off the playing time questions with unusual circumstances with a bye immediately after, will you see more guys play in South Bend, or go business as usual?
COACH DANTONIO: First thing we'll do is compete versus Furman and they will come in here and play up. There's no question about that. That's natural. They did that last year against Virginia Tech. I was very impressed on how they handled that football game, especially early in the game.

So that's the No. 1 focus and then the second thing becomes, as we move through the process, which I'm always saying that these days, according to my players, as we go through this, then we'll figure out who we are going to play and get ready for Notre Dame.

But we have a week in between there, so it's a little bit abnormal a little bit in terms of what we're going through there but I think it can help us as we move it forward.

Q. With Williams and Prescott Line at fullback, how have they progressed at camp leading up to the first game and is that a situation where they bring different skill sets to the table?
COACH DANTONIO: They bring different skill sets. Delton is still sort of getting back into shape as being a fullback. He's really a fourth tailback really, so he can run the football, there's no question about that. And then Prescott is learning because he just got here. So both of those guys are sort of in that mode of transitioning, I would say, to their relative new positions.

Again, it will be determined on who is playing the best, and I would anticipate both playing a little bit. But we'll see. Delton's been nicked up a little bit.

Q. Ten years now at this job.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, ten years.

Q. How does this team remind you of any of the other teams you've had in the past?
COACH DANTONIO: Tough to say because we make those comparisons really at the end of the season. I think right now, you're looking at our football team and saying, this is a starting point, this is where we're at. We just elected captains. There's a lot of enthusiasm I think to where we're going with this football team, but it remains to be seen how we come out on the back end, and I think that's where you start to compare things on the back end.

I can say that we have a very strong senior class, it's a big senior class, and so usually when you have your senior class sitting there like that, if they have their best year and it's large, you're going to have a great football season.

That's what we've always tried to do. These guys that are seniors this year, you've got to remember, even going back to if ed is playing, and I'm going to anticipate him playing, and Brandon Clemons, they have won 54 games since they have come here. They have won over half the games that I've won as a head coach.

So they have been in a lot of big-time situations. They have been in three Big 10 Championship games. The rest of our guys have won a lot of football games, as well, 36 or whatever it is, or 43. So there's a lot of guys coming back with a lot of positive experience. But that needs to transition now to 2016 season.

I do think we have good leadership and I think it's strong leadership and it's coming from more than just one person, which is a positive.

Q. Tyler, as he gets ready to run the show for game week, is it rewarding to see his patience over the past few years paying off with the captainship and starting and all that stuff?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I read the articles on him and talking about his past and everything. It says a lot about him, first of all, as a person, and his diligence and him looking at the big picture of things. He's had a great camp. Nobody's dislodged him. He's thrown the ball very effectively with knowing where to go with the ball and I think his arm strength is very, very good. He's got the ability to move and he understands our offense very, very well. Scale of one to 10, probably 10.

I think everything is in order for him. My, I guess, my message to him is: Be yourself, understand there's going to be criticism and just if you make a mistake, go at it 100 percent and bounce back from it. It's tough being a quarterback at any level, especially at this level in football, because you get a lot of criticism, much of it, you know, people that don't understand the nuances of what he's going through.

So he's got to roll with it a little bit, but he'll be fine. He's a competitor and he's prepared himself for this moment and he's got a great supporting cast around him.

Q. Going back to the question of this being your tenth year, looking back, is it still the same feeling going into this week as it was ten years ago, or is there more confidence now knowing what your team has accomplished?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, it's a good question, because you really never know. I think coming in, I think back to 2007 a little bit and you're wondering, okay, first of all, can I think back that far.

But you really didn't know what you were getting in 2007. On the field for the first time with so many of your players, how are they going to react. I remember we won convincingly I think 52-3 and we had three penalties in that football game.

So obviously there was great focus, great execution on what we were able to accomplish and great emotion and great enthusiasm and we sort of took off. We went 4-0 the first four games. So that started well. They are capable of more because they have been in a lot of big situations and played in a lot of big games, but how they are going to play together at this point in time, you know, you never really know. I understand there's going to be mistakes. We want to make those mistakes going full speed.

Q. You talk about defending your Big 10 Championship; with the veterans that you lost and the new guys coming in, did you feel a need to change the tone for this camp compared to past years, or to tailor it to the personnel to get their minds right?
COACH DANTONIO: We're always trying to critique what we do, so we look at every camp and say, how can it be different, what can we do differently, time on the field, two-a-days, one-a-days, how much lifting we do, all these different things. So we are trying to always critique it and make it better, and that's where our focus is at really a little bit.

Really in terms of -- I think we have a great freshman class. So we've got to get those guys up to speed, and we've got to get -- those guys have to adapt to all the different periods that we go through relative to fall camp. You know, the first part of installation; the second part that you go through, and you should know a little bit what to do in scrimmaging; and now this next part of going to school and playing games, and whether they're on the scout team or whether they're not, and that type of thing.

So there's a lot going through, going on with those guys. So we just try to manage the situation. We try to push those guys, and it's never going to be real warm and fuzzy out there. We want to make them uncomfortable and push them and take them to places they have never been, and to do that you have to provide growth away from the game and practice, as well. That's really what we're trying to always accomplish here and provide growth.

Q. With the quarterbacks, do you have any specific plans to get the backups in this week or do you sort of have to wait and see how the game unfolds?
COACH DANTONIO: We'll see how it all unfolds and sort of go from there. But Tyler is a starter and he's going into the game with all the plays right now.

Q. Your home schedule is stacked in a situation to allow to you have a lot of venues for nationwide recruits to attend. Can you talk about how these home games can allow you to be able to host the recruits that you're able to host?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we have got a lot of home games coming up here that are marquee games, there's no question about that, high-profile games. So that's going to be exciting for a lot of our guys to come, a lot of recruits to come and be at event. No different than the past whether it be the Oregon game or last year whoever was in here playing big games. I think that's sort of natural. I think it's a positive. I think it's an advantage for us. They will be able to see us up close and personal game day.

Q. Talking a little bit off the field but listening to your players talk about Vayante, I've heard everything from a true gentleman to a thumper. So those are some unique terms. What is it about Vayante, we know what he can do on the field but off the field, so many of your players credit him as a good person.
COACH DANTONIO: I think Vayante Copeland is a guy that he turns it up on game day, part of it in practice, and then he also turns it up when he's at practice. But he has that next level when he goes to game day.

And then off the field, he's a guy that just wants to help you. He's quiet. He's introverted. He just wants to go about his business and try to accomplish other things in life, as well, and he takes a very mature outlook. I think he's very disciplined and mature which is what I've always said, hey, if you're a disciplined and mature person, you can go a long ways with just that, let alone great ability. He'll be a feature guy for us.

Q. Can you just address, knocking heads for whatever it's been, six weeks, for the returning guys and the last time they were on the field, it wasn't a very good feeling; can you assess the anxiousness they will feel fly day night when you kind of let the lion out of the cage for the opener?
COACH DANTONIO: I've got guys that stand up there and talk about the first game that they ran out, even though they never played in that game, they remember that first opportunity running out of Spartan Stadium, Spartan Tunnel, the tunnel at Spartan Stadium, and how meaningful that was to them.

So there's going to be a lot of that. You're going to have guys playing in their first game of their last year, you're going to have guys playing in their first game with meaningful minutes on the field. There's a lot of different things going on, a lot of different dynamics going on on their football team with firsts for a lot of people. So that makes it exciting. That brings enthusiasm to everybody, and should be a great event, great night for our guys, and you know, it's all in how you play, though. You have to play well to be able to feel that at the end of the game. So we're looking forward to that.

But I would say we practice through spring ball, going against each other, we've gone through fall camp, and when you add up all those weeks, you're right. We haven't played anybody since last January and that didn't end too well, or December 31. But prior to that, we had a lot of success. And so we'll point towards that and try and recreate that atmosphere.

Q. On the offensive line, obviously the attrition that you had with three guys going to the NFL, where do you feel you're at depth-wise right now, numbers-wise and what kind of things do you want to see from them in this game?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we've addressed their depth issue. We've got a lot of good players up there, younger players, that where they are at day one right now, will not be where they are at six weeks from now. And that's the mind-set we have to take with some of our younger players: Josh King, Auston Robertson; I think Panasiuk, Mike, has put himself in a position where he will play. He will play on Friday night. I don't think there's any question he will play. So he's put himself in that situation.

Other guys, do we red-shirt them, do we not, we may have to wait and see possibly, and we may play them. I just can't say on that. I do know they are very, very good football players and it will be exciting to watch those guys as they mature. You have some guys in there like Malik McDowell and Demetrious Cooper who have been there and done that. And Evan Jones is a guy that's had meaningful minutes last year, so he's coming back with possibility as being the starter. You have Raequan Williams out there for the first time, even though he feels like he's been a starter here for the year because he started since the spring, but he'll have his first start, and it will be under the lights and things will start to move faster.

So it's a learning experience. So all these different things are happening. Kevin Williams coming out and playing for the first time as a Spartan. Gabe Sherrod, same thing. But we have a lot of players that can play at the front position and I think that will be good.

Q. I meant on the offensive line. (Laughter)
COACH DANTONIO: There you go. Well, same thing. (Laughter) You want me to go through that all again? (Laughter).

Q. The numbers, somewhere around eight or nine?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think we'll play eight or nine guys, but I think we have our five, plus six, plus Benny McGowan is in there, whether he will start or not will be determined at game time. But we're solid in there. We're solid and we've got some younger players coming, as well. More red-shirt freshmen type of guys and situations.

Q. Can you talk kind of about what Demetrious brings for you as a captain, both obviously on the field and what he does behind the scenes that we don't get to see.
COACH DANTONIO: You know, Dede (ph) has gone through, like so many of our players, they have gone through the course of time, really, red-shirted, traveled, started to almost play in midseason in 2012 but red-shirted. Next year, special teams. Next year, a little bit more as a starter or nickel guy, because the red-shirt sophomore, he was our nickel guy but he saw some meaningful snaps on the field. Last year, starter, various positions.

So this year comes as a captain and again, he'll play a lot of football for us. So he's played on all the special teams, I think on kickoff, I think on kickoff return, I think on our rangers teams and I think on our punt team. He's played I think three positions in the secondary. He's been on the scout team in the past.

So he sort of sees the whole picture I think for the football team, everything that a young person is going to experience from day one through his senior year. And I think that brings a great deal of credibility to his position. It's not like he just came in there and oh, he's a good player, let's make him a captain. He's seen it from the top and he's seen it from the bottom, and I think that's what makes a great captain, guys that can have a little bit of empathy for the guys who are going through some of the more difficult things right now in a program.

Q. I think this will be the last FCS team you play based on the Big Ten rules. Are you disappointed to see those games go away for the Big Ten?
COACH DANTONIO: No, we just play. I just look and see who we're playing against and we line them up. But I know this; that Furman will come here with the intentions to win. Everybody always does. That's the way this game is played, and I also have a great deal of respect for them as I said earlier, because of my background in the Carolinas there. They played against -- they are in the southern conference, they bring a MAC-type credibility with them, to me, which I've watched MAC teams every year rise up and beat people.

Q. Do you think it hurts those programs not to have opportunities come up?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, I can't answer that. You know, from a financial standpoint, it may be a problem for them. But you know, just play who they put out there.

Q. You've got Darrell Stewart as possible kick returner here. What does he bring for that position? What are you trying to decide with him and R.J., and obviously very comfortable with R.J.?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, just another opportunity to give a guy -- he's a red-shirt freshman. He's been an exciting player for us last year. So this is another guy that's going to play a lot of football for us and an opportunity to put him in position where he can make plays. Whether he is that guy back there or not will be determined by a lot of other things, but he has the ability and he's shown an ability to make plays at that position.

Q. With every recruit that you go after, obviously there's different skills, different strengths, weaknesses, that kind of thing. But is there an intangible that you try to go after?
COACH DANTONIO: I think everybody is always looking for the intangibles. It really makes the player. Probably makes that individual, or drives that individual down.

You know, when you come to a place like this, there's going to be great competition in practice every day and everybody comes in here with the same kind of rep. You know, whether you're a three-star, four-star, five-star, two-star, they expect to play and they have been ultra successful at the high school level.

So when they come in, a lot of the things -- what made Darqueze Dennard a great player, was it his ability or was it his work ethic, or attention to detail, his discipline. He's got the skilled level; but all those other things. What made Kirk Cousins a great player? Same type of things could be said.

I think you're always looking for that person that can make other people around you better. We're always looking for those people that will impact others, and that's the challenge, because we do tend to look at things through a straw. The challenge is: How can I impact everybody around me as a football player.

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