Cunningham 1 catch from new Michigan State record
With his next catch, B.J. Cunningham will become Michigan State's career leader in receptions.
Then, he can turn his full attention to another goal that's been gnawing at him.
Cunningham missed Michigan State's last two bowl games. He was suspended in 2009 and broke his foot last season, leaving the Spartans without one of their best wide receivers. Now a senior, Cunningham is eager to take the field in a postseason game for the first time since he was a redshirt freshman.
''I've just got to keep pushing and stay healthy,'' Cunningham said. ''Stay focused on the field - and off the field.''
Cunningham is off to a fine start after catching nine passes in the season opener last week. When No. 17 Michigan State hosts Florida Atlantic on Saturday, he'll need one catch to break a tie with Matt Trannon for the school's career lead.
He's already passed the likes of Derrick Mason, Plaxico Burress and Andre Rison, and an unexpectedly big night against Youngstown State on Friday put him even with Trannon after only one game in 2011.
''Any time you come and play college football, you meet your challenges,'' quarterback Kirk Cousins said. ''From the guys who are big-time recruits, who have started from Day One - even those guys will tell you they've met their challenges. B.J.'s had his, but he's had a tremendous career. He's a joy to play with.''
Cunningham was a bit of an afterthought after arriving at Michigan State, redshirting his first season in 2007. There was no denying his athletic ability, though. He was also a basketball standout at his Westerville, Ohio, high school.
''He was a big-bodied receiver. I knew that he came from a great program in Westerville South,'' coach Mark Dantonio said. ''He had the ability to jump, go up and get the ball, and those are the things that we really sort of put our stock in.''
Cunningham was set to go play for Dantonio at Cincinnati, but after the coach left to take the Michigan State job before the 2007 season, Cunningham signed with the Spartans.
After sitting out that first season, he made an immediate impact in 2008, catching 41 passes for 528 yards. The following season, he had 48 receptions for 641 yards and four touchdowns, but that campaign ended early.
Cunningham was one of a handful of Spartans suspended following a campus fight in November 2009. Michigan State played short-handed in the Alamo Bowl and lost to Texas Tech.
The Spartans finished that season 6-7, but Dantonio felt the ending helped his team grow a bit. Sure enough, Michigan State won 11 games last year and tied for the Big Ten title. Cunningham caught 50 passes for 611 yards and nine touchdowns.
Then, with the Spartans preparing for a tough Capital One Bowl matchup with Alabama, Cunningham broke his left foot. Michigan State played without him and lost 49-7.
''Everything happens for a reason,'' he said. ''I learned a lot from both situations.''
A healthy Cunningham entered this season nine catches shy of Trannon's mark. Passing it seemed like a formality, but reaching it one game into the season took quite an effort. Cunningham set career highs with his nine grabs for 130 yards. His 18-yard touchdown catch from Cousins in the third quarter helped the Spartans pull away to a 28-6 win.
He also had a 55-yard catch in that game, his longest since the 2009 season.
''There's no guy I've had more fun playing football with than B.J. Cunningham,'' Cousins said. ''I wish him all the success he can have this year, and I just want to be a part of it.''
As he prepares to claim his place in the record book, Cunningham is excited but a little nonchalant. Michigan State has bigger goals this season, such as another conference title.
Besides, there's not much suspense left in Cunningham's ascent up the receiving charts.
''I'm not nervous. It's just one catch now - it's not like I've got like 12 more to go,'' he said. ''I've got one catch. Get that out of the way - hopefully early - and then just play football.''