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August 30, 2011

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO: First of all, just want to thank everybody for all their thoughts, their prayers, their kind remarks, their calls, everybody out there who touched base with our family. I also want to thank our coaching staff. Pat Narduzzi did a great job in my absence there and the rest of our coaching staff just keeping things, again, business as usual and keeping the system moving.
With that we'll just talk a little bit about Youngstown State and go from there. Youngstown is a football team that returns 39 starters from last year's football team. I think it's very unique that they're a football team that was ahead in every single game they played last year, so they've just got to be able to hold onto that a little bit. But I think great things are ahead for Coach Wolford and his staff there.
The quarterback Hess is a guy that was Freshman of the Year last year. I think he forms the nucleus for their football team and he sort of makes them go. They have good tailbacks in Bellamy and Cook. They were a football team last year that had a lot of offensive production. They return seven starters on defense, and so I think that's where they'll probably make some of their greatest strides.
They're a football team that's got a lot of tradition, so I'm sure they'll be very excited to come up here and play on Friday night. It should be a great atmosphere. School is starting, first football game out there, everything going in the right direction in that respect, so it should be very, very exciting for our entire program.
But just want to add that death is inevitable; I understand that. Coach Wolford, I want to pass on our sympathy as a program to Coach Wolford at Youngstown State who lost his grandmother on Sunday evening. So our thoughts are there with him, as well.
We will press forward, and that's what my father would like us to do. I know that, so I'll take questions and we'll go from there.

Q. With everything that you're going through right now personally, is it good to have a game to concentrate on?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think it is. I think certainly we've been practicing for a while, too, and then going through these things emotionally the last couple days, the last week, I guess, or ten days, whatever it's been, so it's good to take the next step, I think, and try to get back to a little bit of normalcy.

Q. How do you think it'll be to coach against a former team that you worked for, and what kind of challenge do you think Youngstown State poses?
COACH DANTONIO: I have a lot of great memories of Youngstown State. Came in there as a staff and sort of helped resurrect, I would say, a program. The program was in good shape. Coach Narduzzi's father actually was the head coach at Youngstown State prior to that for 12 years or so plus. He did an outstanding job, as well.
So this is a little bit of a homecoming, I guess, even though they're coming up here, for not only myself but Coach Narduzzi, as well, because he has a past there. I'm sure he'll be ready to go.
I spent a lot of time there and a lot of things were built there in the time that I was there and then a lot of things came later with Coach Tressel. It'll be exciting. I know a lot of people that are still there administratively. Ron Strollo is their athletic director; he was a tight end on our team when we were there, so it'll be good to see him. Quite a few people.

Q. My condolences. If you feel comfortable could you share some memories of your father with us?
COACH DANTONIO: My father was a great man. My father was a guy that always told me as he told me in the last few days, you've got to take the good with the bad. He always told me to complete my circles, in other words, finish something, what you started. He believed that if you had the right tool you could fix anything, and I think he was a problem solver. He was a long-time educator.
Much like many people out there who have lost fathers, you have unique memories, small things that you remember about your times together, but we reminisced all those things for five, six days. But we were blessed to have the opportunity to be with him, his four boys, his grandchildren and his sister-in-laws and his wife of 57 years. So we were blessed to be with him for the last days of his life. Sometimes people don't have the opportunity to do that.
We have to take the good with the bad, and you know, like I said, he was a problem solver, so he was trying to find a way out of that whole mess all the way until the end. It was beautiful. We had a lot of laughs and we had a lot of tears. My heart goes out to everybody who's lost a parent, a grandparent, somebody close to them in their family because it certainly -- you lose a little part of yourself, I think, when those things happen. You lose a part of your memories or certainly that interaction. But at the same time I think that their strength also comes to you, so even though we're a little bit less of what we were in some ways, we're more of what we were. We're a little bit stronger, and that's because of him.

Q. It seems in football you have two families, you have your family at home and your family here at Michigan State and your players. How do you balance in times like this to be with this family as opposed to your family at home, and what decisions went into that part of it?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you know, these are some spiritual things, but I have a priest that talks about some drop-dead core values, and if things happen that maybe these are the things you want to take into -- you want to think about, in this particular order. You want to think about spiritually where you're at, and you need to think about your immediate family, and then you need to think about yourself, and then maybe the fourth thing you need to think about is what you do. But it's the way it's always been here, and I've always said it, is that if I have a problem, somebody else can be head coach for a day or two days or a week or two weeks or last year or whatever the case. I will do my job to the best of my abilities, but when a problem comes, I take care of my business with my family. I expect our players to do the same thing, and they have. I'm never going to hold back a young man by saying, hey, can you just stay for one more practice or can you come back another practice early. They have an obligation to their family and that's number one.
My dad continually said, even on the day that he passed, what are you doing here, you need to get back to work. But that's him. So by coming back last week, he was a little bit stable, I was honoring his wishes, and by coming back after he passed it was very surreal because it was very quick, and I was back. I was back doing what he wanted me to do. So I'm honoring his memory and his wishes by doing that.
But I think it's different for everybody. Everybody handles it differently and there's no right or wrong. My football family is very close to me, the players and our coaches, and obviously my family is very close to me. So I know what takes precedence and what my priorities are, and I'll hold to those priorities.

Q. I was wondering if you could talk about Max Bullough and his theme of Spartan Pride and Spartan Union and everything. I wanted to ask you what does that mean to you and how strong does that flow through your football team this year?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, Jacquie Joseph, our softball coach, a couple years ago, she said, hey, you know what would really be nice back there on the practice fields, if you had a little signage up there like they do on the baseball fields and everything. I said, good idea. So we have some things put up in the backyard, as we call it, back there, and one of them says "Spartan Pride," and that's something that I recognized when I was here back in the '90s. I think maybe it game from George Perles, maybe it came from Biggie Munn when he played for Duffy and Biggie, or for Duff, Duffy, but I don't know where it came from, but it's something that's been said around here for a long time, and I think it speaks to family. It speaks to trying to do things the right way and trying to win and trying to put your best foot forward, and that always doesn't happen; I understand that; we all have problems. But it does speak to, I think, togetherness and maybe core values and maybe toughness and some of the other things we're trying to establish, and I think Max understands that because he had a father that played here, an uncle that played here. He's had a father that's played here -- excuse me, a grandfather that's played here, and I think he understands those because he's seen it firsthand for a long time. I think that's what he's grown up with.
For him to talk about that or to represent that does not surprise me. I'm sure his children talk about the same thing.

Q. How will you want to utilize Andrew Maxwell going into a game like this? What would be your ideal?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think Andrew to go into this needs to get some reps in the football game. Kirk Cousins is obviously our starting quarterback, but these are the times that we're not going to wait until the middle of the season and say let's put him in and see how he does. He's got game experience, he's had a good fall camp and he's had the opportunity to play in this football game. There is nothing like playing in this stadium, even if it was an away game, but to have game experience, you can practice all you want, but until you line up in a game with things on the line, you really I don't think have a great measurement as to where you're at.
He played last year, but he needs to play this year, and he needs to continue to get that game experience as we move forward. As you play in every game, obviously that doesn't hold true. But in these early games, we've always tried to play our quarterbacks, whether it was Cousins with Hoyer or whether it was whoever, whether it was Andrew last year with Kirk or whether it was Keith Nichol in '09 and Kirk playing in '09, we were going to try and play a couple guys and get them ready. I think we'll remain true to that fact.

Q. We're going to have the depth chart, there's a lot of starting positions that say "or" with another guy. Is this a year where you're going to go through the first couple weeks still kind of deciding who some of the starting guys may be?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think so. We really have a relatively young football team. When you look at our defensive football team, we've got one senior in the secondary, nobody at linebacker and one senior -- two seniors on the defensive line, so we only have three seniors in our top 22 players on the defensive side of the ball. Because of that, there is some guys that are building their reputation, whether that be a Marcus Rush or Denicos Allen or Steve Gardiner. There are some guys that are either-or guys, say Kevin Pickelman or Rashad White or Jerel Worthy, they all have game experience. For me to sit there and say, hey, this guy is the starter, I think what that means is they're going to play significant snaps, that those guys are guys that are going to play significantly in the game, and then as time permits we're going to be able to establish who that guy is.

Q. Also on the depth chart, when you have Jared McGaha or Dan France, is that to say that Jared McGaha has passed him, played in camp?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I think that's to say that he's a senior, he has game experience at that position, and that he's the guy that will probably start the football game. But I would not say that he's passed him. I would say that Dan France needs to get game experience and understand exactly what's going to happen on that football field. So we don't want to -- I don't want to throw a guy or we don't want to throw a guy in there and have him be -- I just want him calmed down and ready to play. He's going to play a lot of football on Friday night. So we'll take it from there. We'll see who's playing the best and go from there.

Q. How important is it to set a tone in the opener, or how does the opener help you set the tone that you want to carry through the rest of the season, and if you have some home opening memories that you could share, UAB especially?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, first of all, in terms of memories at UAB, running out the first game in Spartan Stadium as the head football coach, that's a memory that I'll always have. We played very well that game. Probably my biggest memory of my whole game, though, is we had three penalties the entire football game. To me that was the most impressive thing. If you can do those types of things on opening game, in opening games, you've got a great chance to win the football game. We played very well on special teams.
So when you look at opening games, special teams, penalties, that affect the game. Tackling, you know, are you ready to tackle people in game time, game plays? We've done a lot live, but until you get out there, you've got to tackle in space, you can't put the ball on the ground, you've got to do well as a snapper, holder, kicker, those type of things. So I think those are really things that are going to define you a little bit in your first game. Certainly your second game even becomes more of a barometer, I think, because you've sort of got some things worked out.
I can't remember the first part of the question. What was it?
I think it can set a tone. It's the beginning. It's not the end. If you're playing with young players, you believe that they're going to get better as you progress towards the season, and so I think that's what we'll do. We've got a good nucleus of older players on offense. Defensively we've got a lot of guys who have played but they're still relatively young. So we've got a good mix. I think we have a good mix on our football team of guys coming and guys with experience. But that has to translate into playing well on the football field.
There's going to be mistakes out there. I just want them to be made 100 percent full-go and we want to put a premium on toughness and effort. If we do that, know what to do, we've got a chance to win the football game.
But those things will be evaluated on Sunday and critiqued and we'll try and make changes or make decisions and move forward.

Q. Skyler Burkland is the starting right tackle. Can you talk about what he did to win that job?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Skyler, since I've seen him play, really has been a guy that demonstrates toughness and effort. He's big, he's physical, he's very athletic. I think he'll have a great future here. He needs game experience, so he's going to be jittery, he's going to be all anxious, but that's what he needs to get. He needs to get game experience. But I think he's had a very solid summer camp, and I think Fou Fonoti, Fou is another guy that you're going to see playing a lot of football here. Whether he'll play left tackle, right tackle, I don't know, but the guy has got something to him. He's got maturity, also is confident, plays extremely hard, he's extremely athletic, so he's in the mix, as well. Now, is he at left tackle or right tackle, I don't know. Those are the things we need to find out as we move forward. He's a football player, though.

Q. Is there any extra value in playing your home opener in a night game environment?
COACH DANTONIO: Any advantage? Makes it a little bit more like high school, so that will be more fun. I would say that. I don't think that there's any advantage or disadvantage. I think it's an advantage to our people in Michigan that we moved this game on Friday so that they can have a Labor Day weekend while we continue to labor.

Q. Youngstown State, their team is even younger than yours. They're bringing a lot of freshmen and red shirt freshmen in there two deep. How do you approach a game when a team is even younger than your team?
COACH DANTONIO: We worry about ourselves in these first games. I think that's what we've always tried to do. We find out who they are and what they're doing, have to adapt in the football game as the game progresses. We've got a staff that's been together for a number of years, so I feel very confident that we'll be able to do that schematically or at least in terms of evaluating what we're doing.
But they're a young football team, so they've got their issues, their problems that they have to deal with, and we have ours, and we'll get ready to play. In the end it's going to be about what we do. It always is. It's about what we do. We control a lot of our own destiny in these games. All these games I think we control a lot of our own destiny, and I think it's important that we execute. We need to worry about what we can control.
But I'm sure they'll come to play. It's going to be a very exciting atmosphere for them. They beat Penn State last year, so as I said, they've led in every single football game that they played last year. To me that's a huge statement.

Q. You mentioned Fou. If you're going to red shirt him, you have to make that decision ASAP; is that correct?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we would have to make that decision. Our hopes are that we probably -- I like to have him both ways. I'd like to play him this year and red shirt him, but I don't think I can do that. Yeah, you're right, that's a big decision. But we recruited him to play now, so we're going to have to see.

Q. How will the schedule work in terms of you guys go to Kellogg on Thursday night and things like that and then there's class Friday? How will this change the normal routine?
COACH DANTONIO: It does change the routine a little bit. We'll take it just like a normal Friday on Thursday, and it will be a normal Saturday night game schedule just like Friday. So we're just adjusting the days, and we really don't know what day it is by the time Saturday comes.

Q. Could you address Marcus Rush and his emergence at defensive end?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think Marcus first of all had a great freshman year. We tried to red shirt him, and we were able to do that. But he's a guy that's got a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger. He's a very good football player. He comes from a great program at Cincinnati Moeller. I think he received great coaching at the high school level. But he's a very active player. He makes plays, he runs, he's tough, he plays physical, and the nice thing about him, he's only a red shirt freshman, but he's a player, and I think you'll see him make a lot of plays this year.

Q. Just curious about your attitude about scheduling FCS opponents. Did you guys target Youngstown State because of the ties with this coaching staff?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don't think that we did really. I think they were just an opportunity to play. I don't think we said, okay, hey, because I used to be at Youngstown we're playing them. I think it's an opportunity to play a football team from the Gateway Conference and a football team with tradition. I think that's how they ended up on there.
As far as playing, when you start playing as a college 12 games, I think a lot of people have taken the approach that you've got to play some different level football teams as you go through this. Everybody seems to be doing it because it's difficult to get on schedule, to get 12 games on schedule or four out-of-conference games sometimes. But we'll fill the stadium, it'll be an exciting crowd and exciting atmosphere.

Q. Since the spring what kind of progress have you seen Arthur Ray make?
COACH DANTONIO: Arthur made good progress in the spring, came back in August, went through the five days of acclimating to practices, full pads. But he's been unable to practice really since then because of the stress on his leg, just the overall stress day in and day out. He's in a current rest period with that. But he knows what to do. He's a good football player. But to play at this level right now, he needs to be fully healthy. He's had to take a step back, and we'll see where he's at at the end of the process. He remains vigilant.

Q. I bring this up because we all read the magazines and we always see what teams are going to do. But I wanted to ask you --
COACH DANTONIO: What are we going to do? I don't read them. I try to find one but I couldn't find one in Meijer's or wherever I was at.

Q. When you look at this team and when you talk to your team, what are your expectations of this season?
COACH DANTONIO: My expectations have always been we're going to win every football game. Those are always my expectations. We don't go into a game thinking, well, I don't think we can win this one, hopefully we can win the next one. Our expectations are to win, period, plain and simple. And I think if we do the right things, take care of the football, execute, we'll always have a chance. It's always going to come down sometimes in certain games to the end. There's too many good football teams that we play. We're on the road this season for some big games, but that's why you come here, to gain these type of experiences and play these type of games and really to have these experiences. We expect to win. We're going to find out on Friday night.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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