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IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE FOR MSU’S STANTON

by | Sep 29, 2005 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

What IS this? A stud quarterback, big, strong, good-looking kid, with smarts, with an infectious laugh, with the ability to whip the ball or tuck it and run, and he’s undefeated and unflappable and has a quarterback rating like a Google stock fund, and people know his face and ask for his autograph and experts are calling him Heisman material and he goes to – where? – not Michigan, but Michigan State?

What IS this?

It’s radical, that’s what it is. There are many things that irk Michigan fans about the fresh success of their in-state rivals. But even worse than the 4-0 record (versus U-M’s mediocre 2-2) may be this: Drew Stanton, the Spartans’ quarterback, is now the biggest football star in the state.

You heard me.

Star power is supposed to generate from Ann Arbor, right? There’s not enough wattage in East Lansing, right? They still use gerbils on treadmills, right?

Not right. Stanton, 21, suddenly owns the spotlight, he’s that Vince kid in “Entourage,” on the rise, fusses being made, people want to be around him, they gush, they effuse, and all he does is laugh and shrug and figure this was sort of meant to be. Even if it all goes to smoke by next week, hey, he’s on top today, and how many people get to say that?

Better yet, how many MSU quarterbacks get to say it?

What IS this?

Always a Spartan at heart

“Are you taking any heat for your sudden popularity?” I ask Stanton this week.

“Aw, the guys tease me some. They say, ‘Oooh, now we have a Heisman candidate on our team.’ Or, ‘Oh, you don’t have to lift anymore, because you’re a Heisman candidate.’

“But it’s all in fun. That’s why we’ve been able to have success.”

And this weekend’s big showdown?

“That’s why I came to Michigan State,” he says, confidently, “for games like this.”

Now, Wolverines fans may cringe, but there was actually a moment when Stanton and Lloyd Carr sat across from each other in Carr’s office. The coach was recruiting the prep phenom from Farmington Hills Harrison, even though Stanton’s father was an MSU alum and the son had once cracked, “I’d never go to Michigan.” Nonetheless, here they were; they talked politely and when they parted, they shook hands.

In retrospect, to hear Stanton tell it, that was like the moment in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when Jimmy Stewart shakes hands with Mr. Potter, then stares at his fingers as if they’re glowing red. What was he doing there? He’d been dreaming of playing for MSU since he was a kid! Heck, he even wore green during the TV broadcasts!

“I don’t think this is the place for you,” Stanton’s father told him as they walked back to the U-M parking lot.

Uh, duh.

Some pretty gaudy numbers

So now, a few years later, here he is, the pride of East Lansing, the cannon in an offense that fires like the end of the “1812 Overture.” Stanton – who believe it or not, was on special teams as a freshman, covering kick returns and making tackles – is now completing a ridiculous 73% of his passes and averaging three touchdown passes and nearly 300 yards a game. He has the liberty to check off plays, making the whole thing even more creative – if sometimes dangerous.

“That’s what the guy from Sports Illustrated said to me,” Stanton relates. “He said, ‘Your offense looks like it’s fun to run. It looks like USC’s offense.’ “

Did he say “the guy from Sports Illustrated?”

What IS this? Doesn’t Michigan provide the household names at quarterback? Tom Brady, Brian Griese, Elvis Grbac, Jim Harbaugh – all NFL starters, even Super Bowl winners.

Michigan State? Well, let’s just say it hasn’t been a quarterback factory. Only three MSU passers have been drafted in the last 20 years (Jim Miller, Tony Banks and Jeff Smoker) and none won big there.

But, suddenly, Stanton is lighting it up. And winning. And if he hangs a big number on Michigan this weekend, he will own the quarterback spotlight for the entire state – and that includes Joey Harrington.

“Yeah, we’re riding the best wave of my time here,” he admits, “but I take it all in stride. Our slogan this year is ‘It’s about us.’ It’s not about them.”

Maybe. But if they win and he shines, it will be about him. Sure as I’m standing here, sure as Ann Arbor is southeast of East Lansing, sure as ESPN shows highlights.

A Spartan for the Heisman? At quarterback? Undefeated? What IS this?

Must be a sign of the apocalypse. Just ask Michigan fans.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com.

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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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