Michigan State players look to repair program's reputation
Michigan State's football program is trying to recover from a disastrous period on and off the field. Three unnamed players and a staffer were suspended as part of a high-profile sexual assault scandal in February, which followed a 3-9 season in 2016.
Head coach Mark Dantonio also dismissed defensive tackle Auston Robertson in April due to a third-degree sexual assault charge related to a separate incident.
Spartan veterans came up with the idea of holding weekly players-only meetings to discuss the team's problems, and the meetings continued throughout the winter.
"If I was outside the program, I would probably think there was something wrong," quarterback Brian Lewerke told Dan Murphy of ESPN. "We're trying to figure it out. Obviously the stuff that happened is not OK. So we're trying to change that perception."
The weekly meetings lasted for up to an hour at a time, senior Brian Allen said, and addressed a variety of topics. Players said the sexual assault allegations were discussed, as well as ways to keep one another out of bad situations and increase the team's sense of unity.
"People didn't trust as much as they should their teammates the previous season," Allen said. "We wanted to work on that. We're trying to actually be more of a family rather than just talk about it."
Concerned about cliques, the players instituted a Friday night basketball game and mixed up seating arrangements for meals.
All their practices were closed to the public during spring camp, while they did not speak to the media until the final week of camp in order to help them stay focused on football.
Linebacker Chris Frey said the sexual assault allegations, while serious, aren't relevant to the team's on-field performance.
"We know it's a serious thing, but it doesn't matter on the field," the senior said. "We're still going to be the same team and go out there and do everything we can to better ourselves. It's always there, but it didn't faze who we are as a team. I think with the things that have gone on off the field it's only brought us closer on the field."