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August 27, 2007

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO: Real quickly I want to start this by welcoming you all here and then talking a little bit about preseason. We've sort of talked in stages here with our football program thus far, so we've been through the different things, we've talked about that, the winter conditioning, the spring practice, what we would call our summer conditioning bottom line program, and now our summer camp.
I think that as far as where we came out of summer camp, we came out very well. I think from a health standpoint, where you look at our program right now and our team, we're probably relatively to most teams in the United States probably pretty healthy.
On Tuesday I believe all of our players that are currently in the 105 will practice with the exception of maybe a couple down-the-line guys who have been nicked up and are out.
But we elected the team captains at the end of this, we did that last Thursday, and actually took two votes on that, took one primary vote and then followed it up with another vote to get the four captains, so we made sure that it is who our players wanted. Coaches voted, as well, and I think that we came up with four great young men to represent Michigan State, not only on the field but off the field, as well.
Travis Key, who will play a lot on special teams and in the nickel situation and started six games last year as a defensive back; Pete Clifford, an offensive lineman who has been an extremely hard worker hear in his five years, one of the hardest working football players on our team I would say; Jehuu Caulcrick, who's had an outstanding career thus far and we look for great things this year as a running back; and then our fourth captain right now is Kaleb Thornhill. Kaleb is -- I believe Josh also was a captain here and Charlie was, his father, as well. So top go-getter of all of the captains, almost a unanimous pick in all respects, and great leader for us on the field and off the field.
We're going to kick into gear now basically in a couple different ways. First thing is we're going to start playing football games. I think that our team is tired of practicing a little bit against each other. We gave them Thursday afternoon, we practiced about noon, we gave them off that evening, Friday and Saturday and pretty much Sunday. We came back last night with a practice, sort of mid-afternoon, late practice, finished about 8:30, and came back fresh. So I think we've gotten our legs back, which I think is important here at this phase of the game.
Classes start today, so that's another thing that we have to get control of for our players, and all of a sudden campus came alive last week, people walking around, now classes start, so it's a change of tempo I think for everybody. So I'm sure tomorrow's practice will be getting out on the field on time, making sure everybody is dealing with the class conflicts and those different things that go along with being a student athlete here.
It's also critical that we do a good job in the classroom here, so we'll hold our guys to those standards, as well.
UAB comes in this week. I think UAB is under a first year coach in Coach Callaway, and he's a guy that comes to UAB with some great -- a great background, as well. He's been at Alabama, Auburn, and then Georgia most recently where he's won I believe three SEC Championships as an offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. The offensive line coaches that I've known throughout my coaching career are always going to preach toughness, they're always going to preach discipline and attention to detail, and I think that's exactly what you're going to see from UAB beginning with this first game.
He inherits a football team that is relatively young. He brings a coordinator with him in Kim Helton, who is an offensive coordinator, who was the head coach at University of Houston when Coach Callaway was an offensive coordinator there himself, so there's a similarity between the two, so I'm sure they have a very cohesive background and a background that they can identify with each other's needs.
Eric Schumann is the defensive coordinator; he comes from Tulane, where he was the defensive coordinator for the first I believe three or four years.
When you look at them, they're a young football team, as I said. They do have a couple players that are playing themselves into postseason type possibilities, I guess, in terms of conference things. Joe Henderson is a linebacker. I think he's a very good player, good speed, initial quickness. He's played, he's a junior this year, he's preseason all conference pick for them.
Will Dunbar is a senior, No. 18, who is probably their biggest hitter in the secondary. Go on the offensive side of the ball -- those are probably the two guys on defense.
Off the offensive side of the ball, Sam Hunt, a quarterback who gained some experience last year, initially a transfer from Middle Tennessee, played the last couple games throughout the season, almost led them back to a win against Oklahoma in the first game.
They have another guy, Joe Webb, No. 5, who they were sort of rotating as starting quarterback throughout the summer practices. They've decided to go with Hunt, but I'm sure we'll see Webb, as well, maybe more a dual type guy, runner-passer, but we'll see -- I've heard mentioned that he may play some wide receiver, as well.
Rashaud Slaughter, a running back who is a good kickoff return guy, as well, and they've got some younger players playing throughout on that side of the ball as well as Sigler, David Sigler, is a senior, tight end, and Mencer is probably their best wide receiver, No. 15, right now, who seems like he can go a little bit.
The biggest thing about this game, though, as much as you like to talk about UAB, it'll be about Michigan State. I believe it's the first game, against a new opponent, so you don't really know for sure what you're getting because you have no past games to look at. You look at their personnel, you look at what other people have done, Georgia, Tulane, Houston in the past, so you try and get an idea what exactly what you're going to face, but it'll be about us, I think, as a football team.
I've said all along that the first people we have to beat or the first win that we have to get is the win of respect. We have to get that back. I hope our players understand what I'm talking about. We've talked about that from day one here, and it was apparent from last night's practice that we were ready to play.
With that I'll just go ahead with some questions from you guys. That's probably the best way to go about this, and we'll move forward.

Q. Can you just expand a little bit on what you mean by get a win of respect back? A good performance on the field, a big --
COACH DANTONIO: I think the most important thing is for us to have adversity and play through the adversity. I think that's critical to the development of this team. So when you see an adverse situation out there, what I'm looking for is are we going to stay together. It doesn't necessarily mean you're going to succeed every time that happens, but will we hang together, will we stay together, and I expect us to play with great emotion, and I expect us to play with great technique and toughness.
When I think of Michigan State, what I've always thought of Michigan State, I've thought of them as a very emotional -- a lot of times they played on emotion, a lot of times they play with tough guys who would make big hits, et cetera, but they fly around. So that's what we're looking for, offensively, defensively and special teams; we're looking for guys who want to get excited to play, and we're obviously looking for execution.
It seems as if since coming here that for whatever reason, Michigan State has been going down a slope. It's been going down a slope. We need to change that. We need to be able to put belief back in our fans. We can talk about that all we want, but it's going to show up on Saturday.

Q. I just wondered if T.J. Williams is back with the team today, and also, is Mike Gyetvai not active for the first game? He's not on the depth chart.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, T.J. Williams is back in school and he is back practicing with the team, so we'll leave it at that. Everything else will be internal.
And then as far as Mike Gyetvai, he continues to rehab and is practicing, but on a limited basis until he feels confident that he's able to play, and that may take another three, four weeks or a month. But when he feels confident, that's when the time to go. He's had a history of surgeries there, and we need to make sure he's game ready. But he has been practicing on a limited basis, so it's not like he's walking around out there in a yellow shirt not practicing; he's practicing, just not ready to go yet.

Q. Do you go into this game with a plan to get some snaps for backup quarterback, and who will take the No. 2 snaps in practice this week?
COACH DANTONIO: We're going to go into the game playing to win, and beyond that, we'll play it as it comes, as it goes. In respect to who's getting the backup snaps, Foles and Connor Dixon will both get those snaps intermittently. We'll change up the twos and we'll make decisions at game time as to who goes if the situation would arise.

Q. Can you just talk about Mark Dell winning a starter's position as a freshman?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think from day one since Mark has come in here, he's had an outstanding summer camp, goes up and gets the ball. He's been very good back there catching punts, as well. So you expect to see him back there at some point during the year for that, as soon as he gets a little bit in the game atmosphere a little bit. But he's a playmaker. He's going to be a great player here at Michigan State for years to come, for the next four years, and we're excited about the possibilities he brings to the table.

Q. Can you talk about Michigan State playing when they're at their best, they play at a high emotional level and those kinds of things. Emotion tends to ebb and flow during the course of a season. Is there something you want to see beneath that emotion that will carry you through those times when it's not quite as high as it should be?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, that's what I'm talking about when I speak about handling adversity. We have to be able to go out on the football field and be able to do that.
Where I thought that, for example, when we had success where I was at before, we played through adverse situations, and I think every football team is going to have to do that. It's going to come up throughout a game three, four, five, six times. It's going to happen. We have to be able to play through that, and we have to gain small victories through that. If you can do it once, then you can do it again, then you can do it again, and sooner or later you begin to expect that.

Q. What's the latest on the competition at punter?
COACH DANTONIO: Aaron Bates will punt for us, and I think he's done a nice job. I think Ed Wagner has improved, as well, but I think Aaron has punted pretty consistently throughout summer camp, but he is a freshman. I think he is a little unique in the fact that he has a pretty good mental aspect in terms of -- you know, he's able to keep his confidence, I guess, if he does hit a bad one. He'll come back. So he's strong emotionally, and I think that's a positive thing.
Ed Wagner will be ready to go. Because he is a freshman, Ed will be ready to go in case things happen. But I don't anticipate that; I think he's done a great job.

Q. I just wondered how SirDarean Adams is doing. Is he pushing himself into a position where he might split some time with Mitch? Why did you move him from the weak to the strong side?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we move them around. Basically those positions are a little bit mirrored in some respects. We move them around basically for depth purposes as much as anything, plus we want him to be able to move in either direction there, given the opportunity. But yeah, he's coming around. He's doing okay.

Q. What concerns you most about your football team as you go into week one here against UAB?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, all along I said we needed to stay healthy, and we've been able to do that. I guess the biggest thing would be because we have not been here as a staff on the field. There's many things we've done to make it game-like situations, playing in the stadium and the noise and different things, playing on the clock and everything. We still have not played a game yet. So it'll be our first game together.
I'm sure it'll be interesting to see how I'll react on the sidelines for our players. I'm sure I'll be interested in watching them react. Nothing ever goes smoothly, so there's going to be transition there. There's going to be adversity, and we've got to be able to handle that.
I would say, as I've said before, that's the biggest thing I'm looking for, how do people handle success, how do we handle failure, and success is the same. I'm not looking for attention getters out there, I'm looking for us to all play as a group.

Q. On a personal level, how much are you anticipating stepping on that field for the first time as the head coach here at Michigan State?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, I was asked that I think the other day by Dave Ellis, and I really hadn't thought about it actually. He asked me, "Well, you know, about a week from now you're going to run out of that tunnel; what are you thinking?" I looked down there, and I said, "That's the first time I've really thought about it."
I think most of the time I've spent has been involved with our football team, and the thing that I think everybody here and everybody on our football team has to realize is I'm not running out there by myself. I'm running out there with our players. So when we go out, it's we. I'm not running out, we are running out. There's strength in that, and there's confidence in that, and it gives me a sense of security, too.

Q. A couple weeks ago you mentioned to us that you were missing your first special teams meeting. You've been very involved. Given the priority you're making it, will we see regulars playing on the special team that also play offense and defense and can you give me a percentage of how many?
COACH DANTONIO: I can't give you a percentage. I haven't counted up percentages, but you're going to see players playing throughout special teams who will start for us. I think that's a very important part of the program, and we need to be -- need to take advantage of those aspects of our players. We've worked hard on it, and I hope it shows on Saturday. I expect it to show. But you'll see players playing in and out on a regular basis.

Q. You were talking about looking for adversity. How much is acceptable in this first game because kind of the thought is that the season openers, that these early games are supposed to be ones that should be somewhat easy wins, so how much adversity would be okay without putting you in a situation where you are worried about things?
COACH DANTONIO: I would say that there's going to be adversity. We understand that. But it's going to be how we respond to that that's critical. That's what we're looking -- that's what I look for as a coach. I look to see how we respond to that, and then are we successful in handling it.
Hey, if they intercept a pass on the 20-yard line and we make them kick a field goal, that's a positive thing. If all of a sudden they score in one play, that's not. If they do score in one play, how do we handle that? Do we fall apart, do we spin out of control, do we unravel, or do we stay together? Those are the things that I think we need to look for, and you need to build on the things that happen. We need to constantly talk about the past here, build on the things that are happening.
Since I'm talking about that, I think I want to mention, I have it here in my notes that Hank Bullough will be our first captain, our honorary captain, and we were looking for -- we had a list of names, and we were looking for somebody -- I thought since it was our first game here as a program right now, as a new coaching staff, I wanted someone who represented the past, and certainly Hank does that. I also wanted someone who our coaches knew immediately and on a first-name basis, and I wanted someone that our players knew actively, and he's been to a lot of our practices and he knows a lot of our players, and I thought it would be special to have him represent. He's been a national champion at Michigan State, and he truly is a -- when you say Michigan State football, he's one of the people that you talk about.

Q. You're not going to let him call plays, are you?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I won't give him that chalkboard, either, but he'll be out.

Q. As honorary captain he talks to the team before the game?
COACH DANTONIO: What we'll do with that is he'll be able to come with us on Friday, have Friday -- he'll join us as a football team basically. Some of them will be able to do it only on Saturday if they're coming in from out of town. But some, like in his case, he may be able to be there on Friday and Friday meetings and such. But Saturday at our pregame meal, he will address our football team, and then he'll be on the sidelines prior to the game and walk out and do the coin toss.

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