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January 7, 2008

Mark Dantonio

THE MODERATOR: Reminder, Signing Day is on February the 6th, spring football practice begins on March 17th and the spring game is on April 19th. For recap of the 2007 season, head coach Mark D'Antonio.
COACH DANTONIO: How we doing, guys? Good to see you all. Real quickly, I thought we'd just do it like I normally do, I'll just make a couple of statements and answer some questions as we go.
When we look at the season as a total whole right now, I think we took some positive steps forward. We came in last year, said it many times, looking to reestablish our program. When you look at our seven wins, we had two very good wins at the end of the season, played everybody very close. In terms of our six losses, I think we lost by a total of 31 or 32 points.
But the message to our team as we met with them this morning is we have to finish and hopefully our guys understand that by now; that we have to take the next step as a program and those games that come down as close as that is, we have to get over the hump. And I think some of it's experience; some of it's having been there before; some of it's, you know, part and whole of guys making plays at the end of the game or making a call at the end of the game.
But it's all-inclusive whether you're a coach or whether you're a player, and that's what we'll spend our time on in winter workout, and we'll develop certain things in the spring and in winter workouts that basically confront that issue and we'll continue to move the program forward.
Very proud of the way we competed each week. Especially proud of our seniors and every one of those guys added something to this football team this year. Some outstanding contributions. I'm sure that everybody understands and knows that we've lost Devin and he's declared for the draft; and he had a tremendous year, a tremendous really first year for him. But we wish him the best.
I guess the one thing that I would say about that since everybody is always of interest there, I'm sure with the questions I get; that we met for two and a half hours, he did due diligence. I spoke with him late Saturday night and he made the decision to go. He asked for some closure, and he came in this morning at 7:00 and talked to our football team. With all that said, I goods he still has an opportunity to change his mind up until the 15th or something, providing he has not signed anybody from an agent standpoint.
But I guess the term right now, is it is what it is. You have a guy, a lot of kick return yardage; a guy with a lot of receptions and yardage there. But I will also go out and say publically that there's 11 guys on our football team, and it doesn't happen with just one player.
So someone, if you divide that up by 11, there's some other people that are responsible for those plays, whether it be a quarterback, whether it be a block here or another wide receiver there, but we have players in the program and we'll take steps forward. I think we're having an outstanding recruiting year, especially in the wide receiver area, and that will just provide opportunities for others, but we wish him the best.
Again going back to I guess the nucleus of who is coming back, met with them as well earlier this morning, and you have guys like Javon Ringer, who is a tremendous player, tremendous person, outstanding leadership skills. Brian Hoyer, Justin Kershaw; those are some guys who just come to mind, Otis Wiley.
We have some excellent football players returning. Greg Jones will continue to get better and better, had an outstanding year at linebacker. Trevor Anderson is a guy I think we need to make mention of right now, because he's a guy that has been granted his release from Cincinnati and will be on scholarship now this second semester and is an outstanding player and a two-year starter in Cincinnati.
Other players really of note, when you want the good news or the bad news, that type of scenario, we brought three freshmen in yesterday that will enroll for this semester: Tyler Hoover, an outstanding defenseman from Novio (ph) has tremendous upside, 6'7". I followed him through the dorm rooms last night and he had to say, "Watch your head, Coach," as he ducked between the doorways; I didn't have to watch mine. Outstanding player, very good athlete, has an intense motor and you know, will I think see playing time next year and will be an immediate contributor at defensive ends.
Johnny Adams from Bookton, Ohio (ph), wide receiver defensive back and had him in camp as, we did Tyler. Had them in camp, tremendous athlete and again, another guy who will look to have an opportunity play next year, I truly believe that.
And Arthur Ray enrolled, and Arthur as you know, is battling back and he enrolled and seems to be in very good health, good spirits and his attitude is unbelievable in terms of how he has overcome his bout with cancer. And it looks like he may have an opportunity get involved here in the fall, as well. So those three guys are the positives today in terms of, you know, guys who came with us this morning.
You've got some young guys who are really red-shirted or did not see much action in terms of B.J. Cunningham, outstanding performance throughout the entire year, wide receiver, would have been playing -- probably would have been playing from mid-year on, only played football for two years and outstanding leading ability in hands, catching the crowd. Had Ashton Leggett and Andre Anderson, Kirk Cousins and Nick Foles and Pickelman and Ryan Wheat; those guys who really did not see the field, but will be outstanding players, and there are others. So we will look forward to them getting involved this spring, and you'll see a lot of action from them.
When you talk about right now, I guess you have to talk about where we are with the recruiting process, where we are at with the Schandalier Center (ph), that's moving on. It's an outstanding building. I was over there the other day and it's right on track to be finished at the end of June. And it should pay dividends in terms of recruiting and everything else we are trying to do here from, and not just the recruiting aspects, but opportunity to learn and teach in that environment will be substantially better than doing it in trailers. Nevertheless, guys have to bring an attitude.
Where we are at recruiting right now, we'll probably take another six to eight players, so we're winding down there. We have two big visits weekends these next two, some outstanding players are coming in, and you know, we are where we need to be in terms of recruiting right now. So we're very much excited about that and we just have to land a couple more here, whether it's in state or outside of state to make it a super year for us.
Thus far, from our commitments, every one of our commitments with the exception of two, have been in our camp. So we know what we're getting, and that's exciting for me, for us. We want to recruit, character, quality players, that have an upside with size, speed and intelligence and guys who want to play with a passion. I think that's the mixture that we want. When you look at guys with size and speed, you can move them from different position to different position and they can make the transition much easier.
Fourth Quarter Program, what we call it, which will be very suitably called this year, I'm sure will start here in early February and will go for -- we'll probably go 15 to 16 of those. And we'll invite you guys out again like we did last year, so you can watch it. And we will have some new take on some different things to try to make it more competitive, to try to make it more extremely difficult and try to put people in a position where they have to win at the end. And I think that will be part of the team building.
As far as our 2008 schedule, remember, we had the fourth-toughest schedule in America from what I was told when I got the job last year. And if you look at that, the opportunity to go to a Bowl game and do the things that we did; well, we fell short of our goals, we took a step.
The big thing for right now for our program is to take -- if you would look at it, is two steps up. We do not want to take a step back. So we want to continue working towards that, towards New Year's Day Bowl Games and Championships. And I think that you have to talk about those things if it's going to become a reality. You can't put your head in the sand and say, 'I hope we go to a December 12 Bowl Game' or something like that, if there is such a thing.
But we want to take the next steps to move in that direction, and I think it can happen here because it has shown it can happen with our seniors from last year when nobody gave us much of a chance. That will be exciting for us.
When you look at our early schedule, we have Cal and Florida Atlantic on there. Certainly Florida Atlantic had a great year last year, and Cal is out there, will be difficult. You have Notre Dame on the schedule and Eastern Michigan and its improved team, and you have the Big Ten Conference. We're excited about that and the continuity that we have in our staff and in this program will only give us an opportunity to get better.
In closing, I guess I'd just like to thank all of our fans for their support this year, especially our students. They have been tremendous. The prayers that I have received on note cards from people telling us that they are praying for us is just very humbling as a person, and I want to especially thank them for all their prayers and support and we will ton to move it forward.
I've said earlier from when I got here, this place is a place of distinction and will continue to try and uphold that in everybody's eyes and we'll move the program forward. So I'll just take some questions. Thanks.

Q. Looking at next year, safe to say the left side of that offensive line is high on the list of priorities or concerns?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we can move people around. That's the nice thing about what we've done offensively, whether it be Roland over there; we do have some players coming back. You know, Rocco Cironi has been there as a freshman at some point the year before, and he's played; didn't play as much this year because we had some senior guys get back involved, but he certainly needs to take a step there.
I think Brendon Moss is another guy who is very athletic, big guy. Joel Nitchman had an outstanding year and will be back. You have Jessie and Roland back. Tight end is a concern, but we've worked Michael Jordan in there a little bit in the winter, you know, the winter stuff we had here before the bowl game. So I think he's a guy that can play into that position.
We moved Deon (ph) over there and red-shirted him as an offensive lineman, big athlete. I think we have some pretty talented freshmen coming that have -- that have a good understanding of what we do. They have been in camp with our coaches and they have a pretty good understanding, so they have a head start in terms of expectations. It's not like we are recruiting guys we haven't had in camp and haven't worked with them, so that's an exciting thing.
And all those things -- and I'm sure I'm missing somebody but we have some guys who were a little thin this year. Will we get Jason Diehl back from an injury? I would think he would be an added dimension for us, as well. You have some freshman, Jared McGaha, Joel Foreman, Arthur Ray possibly coming back in to the fold here.
So we've got some pieces, and we can work around it. And the one thing I can tell you that is that Dan Rucker is an excellent offensive line coach, as well as Mark Staten, and they can get our guys ready to play.

Q. Did Devin come to you and ask you, "Should I say or go," and what was your advice to him?
COACH DANTONIO: I knew this was coming down the road, because you hear -- have a tendency to hear things.
So we basically waited until after the Bowl game and sat down on Friday with his brother and with his father and they came in and we laid everything out. Did a lot of research on my end. I'm sure they did research on their end.
I think that in one aspect, I feel like a failure as a coach because, you know, I didn't keep the team together in that respect. But you know, been here one semester, really one year, and on the other end of things, I feel like a success because he had a great year, and so he has that opportunity because of the year that he had and because of the exposure we gave him and the opportunities we gave him.
So I think we live in a world right now where, as Nick used to always say, it hasn't changed since the 90s, sort of instant gratification where everybody is looking for that next piece immediately. And you know, it's a very tempting thing. I do think that there were reasons to stay. There were great reasons to stay and great reasons to go, and he's got to make those decisions and we'll support him in any way possible.
The one thing that I told him as I talked to him, and I think it's important, whether I talk to recruit, because basically what I was doing was recruiting him here is that he feels like at the end of the day, regardless of the decision that he makes that we're going to support him and that he respects us for the way we handled our business. And I respect him for the way that he handled his and the way that he came in, sat down, took two and a half hours and did some soul-searching and got back to me on Saturday night.
So that's where we are at with it, and it's a little bit bittersweet. You're excited for him and hope that he's very, very successful, but it's a little bittersweet for us. But that's nature, too.

Q. What's his relationship with Drew Rosenhaus, if there's still a loophole before the deadline that he could come back?
COACH DANTONIO: Oh, I would guess you would have to ask him.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: I don't know the answer to those questions. I didn't ask him those questions.

Q. Just going back to recruiting for a minute, you can't mention names, but you mentioned at linebacker, defensive back are areas of needs. How are things going with that and trying to fill those spots?
COACH DANTONIO: Very, very good. You know, last year we took one linebacker, we took one defensive back and both have started for us. I think the thing that we look at in recruiting is because we had some junior college players in here, you know, there is a little bit of a step missing, and we have to be able to fill in that step as we go.
We don't have, you know -- so at those positions, the linebacker position is where you see it. I think at defensive back, we really played seven, eight guys, we lose two of them, so we've got five guys, quality players coming back that have played a lot of football for us. And when you throw Rod in there, there's another one, so you've got a pretty good nucleus coming back in the secondary, and linebacker we lose three seniors.
I think we have some guys coming back but we're thin at that position. So there's a great opportunity for guys to come and play immediately and I guess that's what I would write if I was writing it -- (laughter) -- I mean, you know, other people can take talk like that, right?

Q. If you look at Brian's seasons, it mirrors Bill Burke's junior season. Do you do thing likes since Bill is in the area talk to Brian and talk about the similarities?
COACH DANTONIO: I want our players, our past players, to always feel welcome to come back in and talk our guys. I think he has some what have a relationship there. We just got back, Brian just got back I think if you look at Brian and what he has done this year, we would not have been at that Champ's Bowl had it not been for Brian Hoyer.
And if you look at his performance throughout the season going into the Penn State game, having only five interceptions, and I believe he still finished second in the conference in terms of passing efficiency; you know he had a tough game down there, but that happens and that happens for all of us. So, you know, there's nobody wondering or what if'ing him. To me, it's we move on, we learn from the experience and we move on with it. But I think he's had an outstanding year.

Q. A lot of players last year commented because you told everybody, every spring, every position is open for competition. How much is that due to generate excitement in the Fourth Quarter Program and the fact that everybody's position is open now?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I hope that it shows that we're going to play our best guys. I don't care if you're a non-scholarship player. I don't care if you're fifth-year senior. I don't care, really, where you're at in the sense of the program.
We're going to play our best players and they are going to have plenty of opportunity to show that. I would think that it shows, you know, an increased awareness of competition. We look to see that in our workouts, and we did last year, so I'm sure we'll gear it up again.

Q. How many commitments do you have right now and how many do you expect to sign?
COACH DANTONIO: Verbal 16. And we'll look to sign the full 25.

Q. What did Devin tell the team when he met with them?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, I think that you guys probably should talk to Devin. I don't want to get involved and disclose anything. He came in to talk to our football team. I think that's something -- that's a personal thing.
You know, I want to keep it like that. I want to keep it pure for him.

Q. The majority of the commitments, verbal commitments that you can't talk about have been from the Midwest; have you looked at branching out as far as other parts of the country?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we are branching out in other areas of the country. But I thought it was very important for us for our first year at Michigan State to make sure that we did due diligence in the State of Michigan and in the Midwest. I thought that was very important, because first of all, you've got to know more about those guys. They are going to be in camp, and in this day and age, it's going to be easier for them to come and see you play, their families, and be closer to their families. So all of these entered into it.
I think when you have a better chance at landing those players than going way out to some players, but we have been as far as California. We've had some guys from California. We're on the East Coast. We're down south; we're down in Texas, so we're around.

Q. Is T.J. Williams still part of the program, or what's his status right now?

Q. Can you elaborate on that at all?

Q. (No microphone.)

Q. Some coaches have been caught in the trap where some of them red-shirt their freshmen, and then they have that great red-shirt sophomore years, and they leave early and some of them have gotten caught. Do you worry about that if you red-shirt a guy and he leaves after a sophomore year?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, I was talking to Coach Izzo about this. I've been at Ohio State, Michigan State, Cincinnati; I've been an assistant coordinator at those places; I've been at Kansas. When I went to Cincinnati and was there for three years, we really didn't have those problems where a guy went out early. I guess we did when Trent Cole (ph) went out, but he said, "Coach I want to go play in the NFL. I don't care if I'm a first-round pick or a sixth-round pick; I want to go."
So Trent went out and he's had an outstanding year. So there's a little bit new ground for me. I would have to say that we have to develop a culture here that if we're around people for three, three and a half years as coaches, that there's going to be a little bit more of maybe development there, whether it's educationally, or you know, maybe a little bit more development within the team. So these are our hopes, but we'll address it as we keep going.
You know, sometimes you can't -- it's very difficult to monitor what goes on outside the framework of your building, whether they are getting talked to by different people or how this all goes on, and it's sort of a mystery to a lot of people, I guess.
You know, we'll keep working. And the thing that's great about Michigan State is there should always be somebody standing there waiting for an opportunity. And really if you look at Devin, he had an outstanding year, but he did not come out of spring as a starter and Devin caught six passes as a sophomore.
So there was an opportunity, and he made the best of his opportunity and he did it with great tenacity. And that's why he was successful, because you could have put him at any position on that football field and he would have excelled because of his attitude. So there's another opportunity for somebody else to do exactly the same. And you know, very thankful that Devin did that and very thankful and respect him for the way he handled his business. But he made the most of his opportunities.

Q. You talked about the player you have coming in from Cincinnati, what kind of player he is, and is he somebody that if he would have got his release earlier, would have red-shirted this past season and have been eligible next year?
COACH DANTONIO: He will be eligible next year. He will be eligible this year. He came and paid his own way the first semester. He practiced with us. You know, thankfully UC released him at mid-year, so we were able to put him on scholarship. So the hardship on his family will not be as -- will not be as tough for him.
But he's a tremendous player. He would have played for us this year. He started for us as a freshman. He was a freshman All-Big-East player. He started every game for us, you know, in Cincinnati for two years. So he knows the defense, he knows how to operate in that, and he's a very explosive player and he's 265 pounds or 270 and he can run very well. And he's from Detroit, Crockett High School, and I think he will be a great addition.
When you're talking about that, since we can talk about our new players, I think these other guys coming will be outstanding, Tyler Hoover, has a tremendous upside and future here, as well as John Adams (ph). Those guys were must-gets for us. They were must-gets for us and then Arthur coming in was probably the highest recruited offensive lineman we had last year, so hopefully he's on his way to being able to play in the fall.

Q. How did that come about? Did you keep in contact with Cincinnati on them releasing him, or did they just have a change in heart or did you keep in contact with Brian Kelly?
COACH DANTONIO: No. We just asked, you know, around Christmastime. And they said okay, and very thankful for Coach Kelly and for Mike Thomas doing that. Appreciate it.

Q. This is a spin, but in a way, can a Bowl loss be better overall than a win just for the off-season and the off-season program?
COACH DANTONIO: That is a spin. No, I don't think it can. We learn everything we can from what's happened in that game. And if you look at the film and I watched it, continuous copy, and you know, we should have won the football game. But we missed opportunities to score in the red zone, and we gave up one deep one. We've got to come up maybe with a couple more turnovers or whatever it is.
It's really, you know -- the thing that's frustrating about this year, if you're I guess a fan or a coach, you could almost point to every game and say, if that one thing would have happened we would have won the game. It wasn't like you were losing 49-10 or something of that nature. There was opportunity to win every game. It's such a game of inches. He it's such a game of decision making from a coaching standpoint.
So there's so many things that could affect the outcome of a game. That's where we need to get better. But you certainly cannot fault our football team. We came ready to play every game and we came focused with an attitude and with a sense of enthusiasm, as well.

Q. Other than T.J. Williams, are there any other players who are no longer part of the program other than through natural causes, if you get my drift?

Q. With the playmakers you're losing, how difficult is the challenge to not take a step back next year?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, you look at that, and I would I guess always tend to look at the glass half-full and I would say with the playmakers we are gaining, based on the recruits we have coming in here, and the playmakers we are gaining.
We have B.J. Cunningham is outstanding. Mark Dell will be an outstanding wide receiver. We have guys that are in the mix. Chris Rucker, 400-meter guy, he's shown spurts out there, big play capability. We have Chris Rucker (ph)that we can move to wide out if we chose to do so, he's a 600-meter guy, outstanding runner, receiver, could be. We have people we can move around and play. Like I said, we've made wide receiver a focus and I think we have some really outstanding young players coming.

Q. When you're talking about some of the players that are red shirted, will Nick Foles have a red shirt?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we'll have a medical red-shirt, based on his shoulder. He had surgery on his shoulder, and we sort of felt like after the first game there, that he probably really wasn't ready to go, we sort of held him. But hopefully they have to go through all the paperwork on that.

Q. When do they figure all that out?
COACH DANTONIO: They usually do that -- they usually do that at the senior year, if he goes into the fourth year, or I'm not sure.
Thanks a lot, guys.

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