Dennard excels as part of Michigan State secondary
From two-star to just plain star – Darqueze Dennard is an
inspiration to any player who feels overlooked in the recruiting
Dennard grew up in Georgia, but he left Southeastern Conference
territory to play for Michigan State. To hear him tell the story,
he didn’t have much of a choice. The Spartans gave an opportunity
to a young man who had been an afterthought to seemingly everyone
Now Dennard is an All-American and the winner of this year’s Jim
Thorpe Award, which goes to the nation’s top defensive back. He and
the fourth-ranked Spartans will take on fifth-ranked Stanford in
the Rose Bowl on Wednesday.
”Seeing it all come together, it’s truly a blessing,” Dennard
said. ”My story tells you, just keep praying, believing. Work hard
and everything will work out.”
Dennard was a talented high school player, but that’s no
guarantee of success at the next level. Scout.com gave him only two
stars in its recruiting rankings, and so did Rivals.com. Dennard
isn’t sure what might have happened to his career if Michigan State
hadn’t signed him as part of its 2010 recruiting class. He says his
family’s financial situation would have made it difficult for him
to walk on somewhere.
”I probably wouldn’t have played sports,” he said. ”I’d
probably have been home doing who knows what.”
In the Big Ten, it didn’t take long for Dennard to prove he
belonged. He started two games as a freshman for a Michigan State
team that ended up tying for the Big Ten title, and he’s only
improved since then.
Dennard intercepted three passes in each of the next two
seasons, and four more as a senior. Now he’s part of a Michigan
State team that’s ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense – and
will play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988.
”He’s an extremely competitive young man,” coach Mark Dantonio
said. ”He’s a guy that wasn’t a highly recruited guy, but
extremely quick, and he’s got great presence on the football field,
great ball skills, great presence, and he brings that to the table,
and he brings his confidence to the table.”
Dennard teams up with fellow cornerback Trae Waynes and safeties
Kurtis Drummond and Isaiah Lewis to form the nucleus of a bruising
secondary. Michigan State is No. 1 in the nation against the run
and No. 6 against the pass. The Spartans like to talk about turning
the defense into a ”No-Fly Zone” – and that was certainly evident
in the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State.
The Buckeyes actually rushed for 273 yards against Michigan
State’s vaunted defense, but Dennard and the secondary held strong,
preventing Ohio State from big passing plays that might have broken
the game open. Braxton Miller completed only eight passes for the
Buckeyes, and the Spartans were able to rally in the fourth quarter
for a 34-24 win.
”Obviously there’s a domino effect. If you’re not very good on
the edges, then it’s going to fall, and you’ve got to take care of
the edges another way,” Dantonio said. ”We’ve put a lot of
responsibility on (Dennard) and our other corner, Trae Waynes, and
they’ve lived up to their billing.”
Dennard in particular embodies a Michigan State program that has
turned into a consistent winner despite lacking the recruiting hype
of rivals like Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame. When he came
out of high school, Dennard looked like a marginal college
prospect. Now, he looks like NFL material.
”It’s just truly a blessing to even be in the shoes I am today.
I really don’t believe where I’m at,” Dennard said. ”You could
say I’m playing for those two-star guys that are looking for