Snagging Spartans: The Top 10 Wide Receivers in Michigan State History
After surviving a sluggish start in their season opener against Youngstown State, the Michigan State Spartans kicked off 2011 with a 28-6 victory Friday night.
After winning a share of the Big Ten Championship in 2010, the Spartans have renewed high hopes this season thanks to a strong defensive line, a fifth-year senior quarterback in Kirk Cousins and a three-headed monster of Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper at running back.
However, the difference maker in the victory for Michigan State was a record-setting night by wide receiver B.J. Cunningham. Not only did he catch 9 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown, but he tied Matt Trannon for the most career receptions in Michigan State history with 148.
Cunningham has big-play ability and great hands, and barring injury will have the record all to himself in the first quarter of the Spartans game against Florida Atlantic this Saturday.
Cunningham's ascent to the peak of the Michigan State receiving ranks came as somewhat of a surprise because of the caliber of wideouts who have made their way through East Lansing.
The Spartans have been pumping out NFL-level receiving prospects for decades. Cunningham is on a similar path and belongs in the conversation of all-time great Michigan State receivers.
Without further ado, the Top 10 wide receivers in Michigan State history.
10. Blair White (2005-09)
A former walk-on with intentions of becoming a dentist, Blair White surprised everyone (except his coach and teammates) when he led the Big Ten in touchdowns in 2009 with nine. His 70 receptions in 2009 are the second highest single-season total in Michigan State history.
A steady receiver who caught anything thrown his way, White was instrumental in numerous victories, including a 143-yard performance against arch-rival Michigan in 2008.
Just for good measure, White finished school with a 3.89 GPA and was the school's first Academic All-American First Team selection since 1993. White was not expected to make an NFL roster. He currently plays for the Indianapolis Colts.
9. Courtney Hawkins (1988-91)
Courtney Hawkins was the first player in Michigan State history to have a 1,000-yard receiving season, going for 60 receptions, 1,080 yards and six touchdowns in 1989. Hawkins is in the top four in Spartans' history in both receptions (138) and receiving yards (2,210).
A big-play receiver, Hawkins was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second round of the 1992 NFL Draft. He played nine seasons for the Bucs and Steelers.
8. Mark Ingram (1983-86)
Long before Mark Ingram Jr. was winning the Heisman Trophy and a National Championship at Alabama, his father Mark Sr. was a prolific receiver at Michigan State.
He ranks in the top 10 in Michigan State history in receiving yards (1,944) and touchdowns (14). Recently he has run into legal trouble, being sentenced to seven years in federal prison for money laundering in 2008.
He was later sentenced to an additional two years for failing to turn himself in to authorities in an attempt to watch his son play at Alabama.
7. Matt Trannon (2003-06)
Probably the most underrated receiver on this list, Matt Trannon is currently tied for the most receptions in Michigan State history with 148.
At 6'6", he was a big, bruising receiver who played with reckless abandon. Trannon also holds the Spartans' single-game record for receptions with 14 in a 2006 game against Eastern Michigan.
With an unparalleled toughness that was right in Tom Izzo's wheelhouse, Trannon was also a player on the Spartan Basketball team.
6. B.J. Cunningham (2008-11)
B.J. Cunningham has an opportunity to obliterate Trannon's career receptions record. Already tied with Trannon at 148, and with 11 games to play this season, Cunningham could set the bar at over 200 grabs.
By the time the Spartans' season ends, Cunningham should also rank in the top five in career receiving yards and touchdowns and could go down as one of the best to ever suit up for the Green and White.
5. Gene Washington (1964-66)
Although he does not rank highly on the Spartan career receiving lists, any Michigan State fan who has been around long enough to remember will tell you that Gene Washington was one of the greats.
The prototype wideout who set the bar for future Spartan receivers, Washington stretched the field with his big-play ability.
He was instrumental in the 1966 game against Notre Dame which ended in a 10-10 tie. It was dubbed "The Game of the Century" and the two teams went on to share the 1966 National Championship.
Washington was drafted in the first round of the 1967 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings and made two Pro Bowls in his NFL career.
4. Kirk Gibson (1975-78)
Before he was an Major League Baseball MVP and World Series Champion, Kirk Gibson was a rugged receiver at Michigan State. Gibson was built like a linebacker with the speed of a sprinter, and always inflicted more pain on defensive backs than he took from them.
Gibson ranks third in Spartan history in career receiving yards (2,347) and ranks second in touchdowns (24). None of that was enough to keep him in football, though, as Gibson went on to an illustrious baseball career with the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers.
He now manages the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks and is the front-runner for National League Manager of the Year.
3. Plaxico Burress (1998-99)
In only two seasons at Michigan State, Plaxico Burress put up eye-popping numbers most could not duplicate in a four-year collegiate career. He ranks fifth in career receiving yards (2,155) and third in career touchdowns (20).
His 66 receptions in 1999 is a Michigan State single-season record. Burress was big at 6'5" with incredible leaping ability. His unique skill set allowed him to play special teams, where he forced two fumbles, recovered one more and recorded seven solo tackles.
Burress was drafted eighth overall in the 2000 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He later joined the New York Giants where he won a Super Bowl.
Burress rejoins the NFL in 2011 with the New York Jets after spending the better part of the previous two years in federal prison on gun charges stemming from an incident in which he shot himself in the leg in a New York City nightclub.
2. Andre Rison (1985-88)
When thinking about the great wide receivers who have passed through Spartan Stadium, Andre Rison is typically the first that comes to mind.
Rison is Michigan State's all-time leader in receiving yards (2,992), and is third in both receptions (146) and touchdowns (20). Rison was a classic burner who caught everything thrown his way.
Rison parlayed his collegiate success into a quick start to his NFL career. Rison is one of only five receivers with 60 touchdowns in their first six seasons.
He also developed a bit of a reputation off the field, including his tumultuous relationship with the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, who burned down his Atlanta mansion in 1994.
1. Charles Rogers (2001-02)
Despite only playing for two seasons, Charles Rogers left an impression that won't soon be duplicated at Michigan State. He has the Spartans record for career touchdowns with 27 and is fifth in career receptions with 135.
His 2,821 career receiving yards put him second all-time at Michigan State. He set the NCAA record for consecutive games with a receiving touchdown (13) and won the 2002 Biletnikoff Award for the nations best receiver.
He was the second overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions, but a string of early injuries, followed by drug issues and suspensions, cut a very promising professional career short.
Those who got to see him play in East Lansing can only imagine what could have been professionally for the best receiver ever to play at Michigan State.