EAST LANSING - It wasn’t hard for former Michigan State Quarterback Drew Stanton to marvel at the renovations to the new media center in the North End Zone Complex at Spartan Stadium. Removed from the program since 2006, he joked about the space that once was the room where he put on his uniform on game days, “We’re in my old locker room,” he said.
Stanton, now entering his 10th season in the NFL has been away from his green and white days for so long that he joked about having to to introduce himself to some of the younger Spartan alums during a donor golf outing on Friday. He, along with 13 other former Spartans currently playing in the NFL returned to their Alma Mater for the weekend to work Michigan State’s annual one-day Elite Camp.
With a turnout of many current pros it’s not hard to see what type of program Head Coach Mark Dantonio has created since he took over in 2007. “I think it means a lot, it shows the kids and the recruits how committed we are to this program. For us to take the time out of our free time to come back to Michigan State and even work a camp it just shows how much this family, this university means to us,” said Cornerback Trae Waynes, the No. 1 draft pick in 2015 for the Minnesota Vikings
On Saturday, invited high school seniors attended the camp in hopes of getting noticed and showing the Michigan State Football program just what they’re made of. Although the one-day camp lasts about 5-hours, it’s enough time to get on Dantonio’s radar.
“It takes very little time and yet it gives the coaches everything they need to be able to see you in person and see what you can bring to the table, very, very valuable,” said Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins Quarterback and former MSU standout. “In 2006, had I not come to a one day camp here I would not have ever been recruited, it was that camp that got me on the map with Michigan State and led to an eventual scholarship offer so it was vital to my recruiting experience.”
Cousins is one of many former Spartans who got their start with the program right here at a camp like this. “I was a camp kid, I didn’t have that many scholarships coming out of high school so this camp was actually where I earned my scholarship and it means a lot to some kids,” said Waynes.
This is only the second year that Dantonio has brought back NFL Spartans to help coach the camp, and what better ambassadors for the program than the guys who helped start it all. "It's a chance for all of them to be back together as Spartans," Dantonio said. "These guys have had great success in the NFL and are playing at a very high level. It's exciting to have them all back and be part of our camp. I'm most proud of who they are as individuals and the people that they are.”
This character that was shaped during their time as players with the Spartan program. “We’re a family, you know we never forget the program, we always like to stay together and like to not forget where we came from,” said New York Jets Linebacker Taiwan Jones, who agreed to come back as a coach in hopes of making “A positive impact on someone's life, you never know you know how you can shape them and how that can affect them for the rest of their life, not only in football but just life in general,” said Jones.
Working the camp for the former Spartan players was an opportunity to see their successors add to what they have built. “I feel like that’s what Coach D brought us in here to do and that’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to keep the tradition going not only with us but with the senior class after this year and the ones after that, we’re always trying to shape the program and continue to be a winning program,” said Jones.
Arguably one of the most successful college football programs, Michigan State has a reputation that has paved the way for creating dominant football players. “I feel like when you go into the NFL as a Spartan they know what they’re getting, they’re getting a blue-collar guy who works hard, who you know has been in school for five years and earned every second of their playing time,” said Jeremy Langford, Chicago Bears running back.
Without saying a word, bringing back former Spartans sends a powerful message about this program and what it can do for a player that comes here says Cousins.
“It just really shows how guys are forever spartans, they want to come back and I feel like I want this to grow even bigger and have even older guys that I have never met before back and be able to meet those guys as well,” says Langford
They brought their advice for the recruits and camp attendees. “Don’t rush yourself, they invited you here for a reason, don’t over think anything, just relax, and just play ball,” said Will Gholston fourth round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who declared for the draft in 2012 after his junior season.
“First thing is really just believe in yourself you know, if you don’t believe in yourself then you expect somebody else to, that’s first things first and why not you," said Langford.