Michigan State football's Mark Dantonio: Spartans working to 'chase the moment'

Chris Solari
Detroit Free Press

CHICAGO — The moment arrived Thursday, the official beginning of Michigan State’s football season.

And Mark Dantonio’s 13th as head coach in East Lansing comes with a new slogan as the Spartans attempt to recover from last year’s defensive dominance and offensive sputtering.

“Chase the Moment.”

“We return 20 starters from our football team this year, 50 lettermen. Very exciting,” Dantonio said Thursday at Big Ten media days. “I’ve been very, very impressed with the way we’ve gone about our business since the bowl game. We’ve had great leadership. Our players have responded at every venue in terms of doing their very, very best. They bring a sense of commitment to our program at this point in time.”

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MSU brought three seniors to media day from a defense that finished No. 1 in the nation against the run and 10th overall and none from an offense that was near the bottom of a number of categories. Two of them, linebacker Joe Bachie and defensive end Kenny Willekes, were among the 10 players to get preseason Big Ten honors, and the third is Chicago native and defensive tackle Raequan Williams.

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio responds to a question during the Big Ten Conference NCAA college football media days Thursday, July 18, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

“There's a reason behind that, because I felt like they performed, No. 1,” Dantonio said, “But otherwise they bring a sense of leadership to our football team, as well. And at this point in time, I felt like that was the right thing to do.”

Dantonio said quarterback Brian Lewerke remains the starter for the third straight year, adding the senior’s right shoulder is healthy again and his confidence has returned.

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But Dantonio also said sophomore Rocky Lombardi will push for playing time in preseason camp after starting three games a year ago when Lewerke was injured.

“They'll compete to some degree,” Dantonio said. “But right now, Brian is our No. 1 quarterback, and I expect great things from him. And I expect him to return to his sophomore status.”

And MSU, which went 7-6 last season, needs the Lewerke from 2017 that produced with his arm and legs to drive the Spartans to a 10-3 mark in his first year as a starter. Particularly with road battles at Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan with home tests against Penn State and Illinois sandwiched in a six-game stretch midseason that will define them.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio responds to a question during the Big Ten media days on Thursday, July 18, 2019, in Chicago.

The goal, Williams said, is to deliver Dantonio’s fourth Big Ten championship. MSU’s last was in 2015 en route to the College Football Playoff.

“That’s really the only goal. It means everything,” Williams said. “We all want to be the best to ever do it at something, or you wouldn’t be doing it. That means everything, and we definitely want to leave the legacy of a champion rather than anything else.”

The Spartans also open Big Ten play at Northwestern on Sept. 21 after three straight non-conference home games. Dantonio needs three wins to surpass Duffy Daugherty's MSU record of 109 victories.

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“Our mindset is we've won in every one of those stadiums. We've accomplished great things along the way,” Dantonio said. “So we need to get ourselves ready to play in away games. They're great venues. We need to embrace those venues and play to the crowd.

“It's exciting. … My mindset and our mindset  has always been we will only limit what we can dream on, we can only limit ourselves.”

Contact Chris Solari at csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.