Outgoing: Spartans making their departure (offense)

Offensive lineman Jared McGaha tells the story of the senior class (LSJ Photo)

When Senior Day took place on Nov. 19 against Indiana, Michigan State honored a senior class unlike any other it had seen before. It set the record for most wins in a four-year span with 37 — and won a Big Ten Championship in 2010.

A lot of talent leaves the Spartans football team after this past season concluded with an Outback Bowl win against Georgia — and this is a tribute to those players.

The Spartans lost 11 offensive players to graduation, and one to the draft a year early.

They also lost one special teams player — a punter.

Arthur Ray Jr. was scheduled to be a member of this class, but received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA.

Kirk Cousins — Quarterback

Kirk Cousins celebrates a touchdown against Michigan in 2010 (AP Photo).

Career numbers: 27 wins as a starter (1st) 9,131 yards passing (1st), 66 touchdowns (1st), 64.1 (2nd), 146.1 pass efficiency rating (1st)

Honors: 2011 All-Big Ten second team (coaches), Lowe’s Senior Class Award, National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete, Academic All-Big Ten (four years)

Where else would this list start? Cousins left a legacy and expectation at Michigan State — of winning and of character. It is rare that a player is as praised for his off-field actions as he is for his on-field actions. His numbers speak for themselves, his accolades do the same. But what I think defined Cousins was the confidence he exuded and the calm, collected leadership he exhibited. His records will last for a very, very long time and he will be a player people will talk about in MSU history always. One day, his number will be retired.

** Edwin Baker — Running back

Career numbers: 2,293 yards rushing (12th), 19 rushing touchdowns (18th)

Honors: 2010 All-Big Ten first team (media)

“The Rock” chose to leave a year early for the NFL Draft, after three years as a Spartan. He came in as a freshman with classmate Larry Caper and they burst on the scene. Baker’s speed burst and ability to keep the pile moving against as many as eight defenders (at times) was unreal. He burned Michigan the past two years, going for 167 yards and a touchdown in 2011, following up a 147-yard performance with a touchdown in 2010.

Todd Anderson — Fullback

Career numbers: Six receptions, 40 yards receiving, one touchdown

Anderson was a walk-on, who earned a scholarship prior to the 2010 season. He played just one season at fullback, moving over from the defensive line before the 2011 season and he owned it. He paved the way for the stable of Spartans running backs and he made a few plays of his own — most notably, a 2-yard touchdown catch against Minnesota which resulted in him getting a new tattoo. Great story from a hard-nosed player.

B.J. Cunningham — Wide receiver

B.J. Cunningham hauls in a touchdown reception against Iowa (State News Photo).

Career numbers: 3,086 yards receiving (1st), 218 receptions (1st), 25 touchdowns (2nd)

Honors: 2011 All-Big Ten second team (coaches and media)

Naturally, Cunningham ranks atop many statistical categories just like Cousins. His career numbers are what they are because of their connection and their successes are linked. Cunningham proved himself a big-play receiver who always came up with the big catch at the big moment. He had three touchdowns in the Big Ten Championship Game, and ranked second in the Big Ten with 17 “clutch” catches in the regular season (receptions on third or fourth down that resulted in a touchdown or first down). Cousins-to-Cunningham is a connection and pair future MSU quarterbacks and wide receivers will be measured against — they set the standard.

Keshawn Martin — Wide receiver

Career numbers: 18 total touchdowns, 4013 all-purpose yards (10th). (Receiving) 1,714 yards receiving (16th), 127 receptions (11th), 10 touchdowns (17th). (Rushing) 64 rushing attempts, 540 yards, three touchdowns. (Passing) 8-of-9 passing, 540 yards, two touchdowns. (Returns) 65 punt returns (4th) , 659 yards (2nd), two touchdowns (T-1st). 47 kickoff returns (8th), 1100 yards (8th), one touchdown (T-5th)

Everyone loves the story of how Martin came to MSU. He wasn’t recruited and didn’t attend camps, but his coaches sent out tape to Midwest colleges and universities. When Mark Dantonio and his staff saw they tape, they offered him a scholarship right away — and in turn, Martin came in and played right away. He scored a touchdown in five different ways and became the king of the bubble screen. Martin’s speed and electrifying playmaking abilities will not be seen in the green and white again — at least, not in the same way.

Keith Nichol celebrates after his Hail Mary catch was ruled a touchdown (LSJ Photo).

Keith Nichol — Wide receiver

Career numbers: (Passing) 53-of-98, 826 yards , nine touchdowns. (Receiving) 58 receptions, 625 yards, four touchdowns

Honors: Academic All-Big Ten (three years)

Rocket Man. Forever Nichol will be known for his Hail Mary reception against Wisconsin — but it’s the way he got to the play that is much more significant. A star quarterback headed to MSU, changing his mind and going to Oklahoma, transferring back to MSU, losing a quarterback battle in 2009 and becoming a wide receiver by season’s end. With his talent and athleticism, Nichol easily could have been the QB to take MSU to a Rose Bowl and to Big Ten titles — hefell two pass attempts short of qualifying for the record in pass efficiency, for which he would rank ahead of Cousins with a rating of 149.1 — instead he made his mark as a receiver. And in the process, cemented himself in folklore for all time.

Chris D. Rucker — Wide receiver

Career numbers: 2 receptions, 29 yards receiving

Yup, the other Chris Rucker — the lesser-known to former MSU cornerback Chris L. Rucker. He did not see much playing time, buried behind many talented receivers, but his name made him a fun person to have on the roster. Just think, Chris D. Rucker lining up against Chris L. Rucker in practices — good stuff.

Brad Sonntag — Wide receiver

Career numbers: Six receptions, 44 yards receiving

Brad Sonntag runs in a two-point conversion in the Big Ten Championship Game (Indianapolis Star Photo)

Honors: Academic All-Big Ten (2011)

Continuing the Blair White tradition, Sonntag was a receiver from Saginaw Nouvel. His primary role was as holder in 2011 — and for good reason. He ran in a two-point conversion against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, giving the Spartans the lead and putting the pressure on Wisconsin through the rest of the game. His cut as he approached the goal line broke the ankles of every person in attendance. He also made MANY clutch holds of bad snaps against Georgia, helping MSU win its bowl game. While it may seem a small role, Sonntag was essential to the success of the Spartans in 2011.

Garrett Celek — Tight end

Career numbers: 14 receptions, 135 yards receiving, three touchdowns

Celek’s statistics aren’t big, but as the blocking tight end, they were never going to be. Celek battled lineman and linebackers to break open runs for the Spartans backfield — and he did a consistent job. He bottled up Georgia’s Jarvis Jones incredibly well in the Outback Bowl, at times he did such a good job that Jones was left shoving him after the play in frustration.

Brian Linthicum — Tight end

Career numbers: 69 receptions, 860 yards receiving, three touchdowns

Honors: 2011 All-Big Ten second team (coaches)

Linthicum set the standard for tight ends with big play ability. He ranks fifth in receptions among Michigan State tight ends and sixth in yards receiving. Oh, and his seven receptions for 115 yards against Georgia was a good way to go out. Linthicum’s 50-yard run after catching a screen pass in the Outback Bowl was the ultimate example of Big Ten speed.

Joel Foreman — Offensive guard

Left guard Joel Foreman runs the ball for three yards against Indiana (LSJ Photo).

Career numbers: One rush for three yards, 48 starts

Honors: 2011 All-Big Ten first team (coaches and media)

Foreman could not have been more appropriately named — he was undoubtedly the foreman of the MSU offensive line for the past four years. He left tied for the most starts in Michigan State history, a record he would have held if not for wanting Ray Jr. to start in his place against Youngstown State. Foreman is the epitome of an offensive lineman: no glory, hard work, battling in the trenches and playing through pain. Guys like this don’t come along every day.

Jared McGaha — Offensive lineman

Career numbers: Four starts, 32 games

McGaha started games in each of the past three season — at right guard or left tackle. He also was called upon in the Outback Bowl for periods of time to help neutralize the pass rush. Mostly, McGaha served as a rockstar who loved beating U of M — in many of the postgame photos from the Lansing State Journal, McGaha was prominently featured with four fingers in the air or holding Paul Bunyan.

Kyle Selden — Punter

Career stats: Three punts, 142 yards

Selden served as the backup to Mike Sadler, and despite a little role on the team, it is a reminder that from top to bottom, a team is made up of people sacrificing week in and week out. As a fifth year walk-on, Selden was destined to never see the field — but he, like any player, was a part of the teams that won 37 games.


Posted on February 3, 2012, in Football and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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