There are occasionally young men on the football field that surprise us, as fans that is.
That young man that makes the gain to set up the winning field goal in a bowl game just a season after shouting and screaming in sweats from the sideline.
That stud of a quarterback who spent two-plus years behind the university’s franchise face just waiting for his shot and just happens to hit a Hail Mary against the Wolverines.
Those men are looking Spartans’ fans square in the eyes just burning for the opportunity to make their mark, and coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi have the schemes to expose Michigan State’s breakout players and Larry Caper and Will Gholston are square atop that list.
Here are five men that MSU’s fanbase should be on the lookout for to make huge ripples at the grandest moments of what’s predicted to be a bowl-winning, if not championship season.
Filling in the shoes of defensive tackle Jerel Worthy is no easy feat. Worthy, a second-round draft pick to the Green Bay Packers, was a first-team All-American by multiple publications and associations and the decision to go pro was obvious the second the defensive monster became eligible.
An AP All-American nomination for a defensive tackle was the first Michigan State had come by since the dominance of Bubba Smith in 1966, according to SBNation Detroit.
Reynolds is by no means as proven as Worthy was during his time with the Spartans, but the converted offensive lineman’s chances are about to be set in stone with his start at defensive tackle beside Anthony Rashad White.
After disappointing defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi in last season’s Outback Bowl against the Georgia Bulldogs, Reynolds has made sure Narduzzi has never thought about switching him back over to the offensive line again.
"The light came on. He's so much better than he was in the bowl game,” said Narduzzi. “He played some in the bowl game, and I was ready to ship him back to offense. I would never ship him back now."
Reynolds had an underwhelming season in 2011 and is geared to make far more noise as a more integral fraction of the defensive line. In order to be afforded the opportunity to fill the void Worthy left in such a deep defensive unit, Reynolds had to have impressed one of the most complicated coordinators in the NCAA.
Narduzzi is no fool and if he says Reynolds is ready, he’s ready.
Leaving Gholston off of this list would be a miscarriage of justice in the rawest form legally available to journalism.
A lot of fans remember his penalties that landed him the label of one of the dirtier players in college football, but the spotlight too often resonates with a player’s mistakes instead of his redemption. Gholston is an incredible talent and allowing that to be lost in a fleeting misjudgment of the moment seems like a worse error than his.
A lot of scouts look at his overzealous nature in his pursuit of the ball carrier as one of his greatest weaknesses, but the characteristic could easily be translated into one of his colossal strengths.
Gholston’s abilities as a pass rusher can only be improved with heightened technique and hand usage. Shedding blocks is three-quarters of the battle to becoming a better rusher off the edge and until Gholston is consistently getting into his opponents’ backfield—of course there’s room for correction.
His tight hips leave much to be desired when trying to tackle players in the open field, especially running backs with great balance and agility. Still, Gholston has the instincts to make that huge play and the size and strength to be a captivating game-day player on Saturdays and Sundays.
Gholston is a good kid and mistakes shouldn’t tarnish his potential or his stock. Pat Narduzzi has a gem on his hands and there is no telling what kind of strides he will make this season for the Spartan Nation.
Michigan State is a defense that made a name for itself last season and is only geared to make more ripples this season as a unit, both throughout the conference and nationally.
Gholston is righteously the face of that movement.
Larry Caper is not someone that everyone is talking about with Le’Veon Bell drawing all recognition at the running back position at Michigan State.
With Edwin Baker out of the picture, Bell is on schedule for an amazing season with a rookie starting quarterback at the helm. However, with State being more reliant on the rushing attack with an inexperienced receiving corps, Bell cannot be the only target out of the backfield.
Last season, Caper was the Spartans’ designated third-down back with his ability to pick up the blitz and great hands for the ball with quick passes.
Caper is coming into the 2012 season where the urgency in his voice has somewhat worn out and he has come to peace with the direction of his game and possibly his last season of guaranteed football. Caper’s potential has been derailed by injuries and the development of his teammates since his freshman career after which he was primed for a huge career as a Spartan.
After suffering a broken hand in 2010, a concussion in 2011 against Nebraska and another concussion in this year’s spring game, a season without major injury is the first on a long list of wishes that State fans have for the running back.
Still, Caper is in a great position to regain his voice on the field.
With offensive coordinator Dan Roushar entertaining the idea of both Bell and Caper on the field together some times throughout the season, Caper brings the power and the hands to be a huge game changer.
DeAnthony Arnett has a lot of expectations riding on his first season with the Spartans.
The biggest question marks on the field for Michigan State are the wide receivers, as ill-equipped and ill-prepared as the media attempts to make them seem. The most decorated receiver on the roster—since the absence of BJ Cunningham, Keith Nichol and Keshawn Martin have hit the team hard—is tight end Dion Sims.
Without the black cloud of legal troubles casting over him and recovery from his broken hand set in stone, Sims has set himself for a remarkable year on the opposite end of Andrew Maxwell.
The next most reliable option for MSU would have to be Arnett, the transfer from Tennessee. A solid freshman campaign that resulted in 242 yards on 24 receptions leaves the door open for Arnett to be Maxwell’s second target.
His request for a hardship waiver from the NCAA was granted and he will immediately be at coach Dantonio’s disposal. The lapse of trust in Arnett may come because of the fact that he isn’t a household name, but MSU fans need to be far more accepting of his potential to become one.
This year is going to be one dominated by the running game and the Spartans’ defense, but the receiving corps is going to be full of surprises. There is no way to truly gauge exactly who will emerge as the team’s first or second options or who will have their chances cut short quicker than they were afforded them.
It’s undoubtedly the most unpredictable element State has walking into their season opener against Boise State. Still, Arnett is one of the closest things to a proven product that MSU has to boast.
The most scrutinized, praised and promoted position in football is the quarterback, and Michigan State no longer has Kirk Cousins—the natural-born leader—in the pocket.
Andrew Maxwell is gaining momentous support from his teammates and the coaching staff as a young man who’s farther along in his development than his experience gives him credit for.
Maxwell may be a rookie starting QB, but he has been an understudy to Cousins for three seasons already, and earning the trust of the men he has to lead this season is the first among many feats that Maxwell will have to conquer; it is also the most important.
Maxwell has been named one of the team’s captains before even starting a college game and his reign of quiet encouragement, as he calls it, will be his own approach to the position of leadership he’s been given.
Following in Cousins’ footsteps and mimicking his traits is not an option for Maxwell. He took notes on how Cousins related to his troops and never got too big and was never too important for those personal relationships.
The starting QB has his hands full this season, but he is mentally strong enough to handle everything that will be thrown at him.
The State’s defense can minimize as much damage as possible, but it will ultimately be up to Maxwell as to whether or not the Spartans will be able to win the Big Ten championship and possibly a bowl game this season.