Rivalry with Michigan 'personal' for MSU
When asked about the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry, one phrase was commonly uttered by the Spartans' staff and team: "It's personal."
Whether they were born and raised in Michigan or not, everyone in MSU's football program understands the importance of the in-state rivalry. If they have yet to experience it, that will change in just three short days.
"You really don't understand the Michigan rivalry until you're part of it and you play in the game," said offensive lineman Travis Jackson, a New Albany, Ohio native. "When you step on the field, the intensity is out there. When you come to a big-time college football program, these are the games that you love to play in."
Jackson is one of many out-of-state Spartans who might not have understood the powerful rivalry when they arrived in East Lansing, including quarterback Connor Cook.
Cook, a native of Hinckley, Ohio, wasn't accustomed to a divided state. In Ohio, he said, you're an Ohio State fan; end of story.
It wasn't until Cook played against the Buckeyes in the 2013 Big Ten Championship game that he understood how personal the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry is to his teammates.
"A lot of the kids that I knew growing up went to Ohio State and were talking smack and stuff before the game, but I think after playing in that game, I realized how big it is for people from this state for how I felt playing against Ohio State," Cook said.
For the Michigan natives on the Spartans' roster, it's a completely different story -- and that's especially true when it comes to recruiting.
"The rivalry means a lot to me," Jones said. "Coming up, Michigan didn't really recruit me, so you always have to take that personally."
There's that word again.
Jones wasn't highly recruited coming out of Anchor Bay High School in New Baltimore, Mich. He made an unofficial visit to Michigan and an official visit to Michigan State, and chose the latter.
"I just saw there was big difference in the way they treated their players, the recruits, no matter what star you had," Jones said. "I feel like Coach D treated everybody the same. He treated you like you needed to be here, so I felt like I needed to be here. That's why I'm here."
Jones was a key piece in the Spartans' dominant defense that held Michigan to minus-48 yards in last year's matchup. But everyone in MSU's locker room knows that on Saturday, records, rankings, predictions and past meetings will be thrown out the window.
"We could be 0-5 and they could be the No. 1 team in the country, and it's going to be a tough game," Cook said. "You have that with rivalry games, and I don't think we overlook them and I don't think they overlook us.
"It's the Michigan game; it's Michigan week. And I think we always just go into this game with the mentality that we just gotta give it our all, give it 100 percent and leave it out on the field."
Senior safety Kurtis Drummond plans to do just that, for everyone who represents the name on the front of his jersey, as well.
"We're playing not only for ourselves," Drummond said. "We're playing for past Spartans and for future Spartans coming in."
BATTLE FOR PAUL BUNYAN
Since 1953, the winner of the Michigan State-Michigan game has been presented the Paul Bunyan Trophy, which depicts the giant lumberjack astride an axe, with feet planted on a map of the state.
Some might not think it's the most attractive trophy, but Jackson clearly has a different opinion.
"I think Paul Bunyan's a beautiful man," he said.
NEW DANCE MOVES?
It was during last year's rivalry game that Jackson introduced the "Yes!" chant to the college football world. Jackson celebrated a touchdown by Cook by showing off the now-famous WWE inspired dance move.
Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like Jackson has anything planned for Saturday's game.
"I think I hit my peak in that regard," he said with a smile.