Elsworth followed his love for football

Senior linebacker took a chance to say no to wrestling scholarships, but enters final year at Michigan State thankful for the opportunity and without regret.

The list of walk-ons to play a role at Michigan State under Mark Dantonio is an impressive one, led by wide receiver Blair White.

The latest member on that list is senior linebacker Kyler Elsworth.

Elsworth's journey to this point, like many walk-ons, is not the norm for a college football player – and his is a little more atypical.

Elsworth was nationally recruited as a wrestler, but hardly at all as a football player.

"I had one offer by Ferris State," he said. "Besides that, I didn't take any football visits. My brother was the running back star in high school. He was the football star. I was the wrestling guy, so it looked like I was going to wrestle."

Michigan State extended him a scholarship – for wrestling – which proved to be a foot in the door, as did a teammate MSU was recruiting.

"I was offered on a wrestling scholarship, I never committed or anything, though," he said. "But I did have an offer and I took my official visit for wrestling and through wrestling, they kind of set me up with a preferred walk-on. They set me up to meet with the coaches.

"That and Joe Boisture at the time was the quarterback at Goodrich, his junior year. Michigan State was looking at him, so that helped bring some of the coaches to our games to watch us and I kind of got my name out there that way."

"Football is in my future"

Growing up, Elsworth knew football was his favorite sport. While he loved wrestling, the longer he wrestled, the more he could see his passion rested with football.

"I said to myself my senior year, if I get an opportunity to play college football, that I wouldn't pass it up," he said. "I was fortunate enough that Michigan State offered me a preferred walk-on and I got to come here."

It wasn't an easy decision to make with full-ride wrestling scholarships from schools like MSU, Michigan, Indiana and North Carolina on the table. When it came to turning down the money to follow his passion, Elsworth had his family to support him.

"My family really stood behind me and knew that I loved football and I got an opportunity," he said. "My mom and my dad both said, ‘Listen and go with what your heart wants. Don't worry about paying for school. Don't worry about that. Do what you want to do.'

"They really had faith that I was going to earn that scholarship. I said I really do love football and I think it's time that wrestling is in my past and football is in my future."

Making plays

Elsworth came to East Lansing and set to work on special teams and scout team.

He was named the scout team's special teams player of the week once in 2009 and followed it up by earning the scout team defensive player of the year and the Jim Adams Award for unsung hero in 2010.

In 2011, he was put on scholarship prior to the first game of the season

"I was just fortunate enough to get here and show them," he said. "I knew I could play with these guys, I just had to prove it to the coaches and prove it to everyone lese that was out there."

He quickly starting making plays, while still primarily on special teams, but people began to notice.

"People always say they when you're on there, you make a play, but I really gotta credit to everyone else," he said. "Our defense is set up so that if everyone does their job, there is going to be one guy free and one guy making the tackle. Fortunately enough, I have been able to be that guy a few times, which is really nice. But I mean there is also times when I'm just the guy pounding it in there and letting the other guy make the tackle as well."

"You are in awe"

While Elsworth deferred the credit for many of his plays, there is little denying his mark on the Spartans' 37-31 win against Wisconsin in 2011.

Elsworth stopped the Badgers running back James White on a key third-down play that led to an attempted field goal, which was blocked.

That wasn't all, as Elsworth blocked a punt on Wisconsin's next possession and the Spartans recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. Elsworth said at the time he was so excited, he couldn't really process what happened.

"I knew what happened, but I really wasn't able to feel the emotion because we still had a whole second half to play," he said. "As soon as that game was over, I was ecstatic, that was the first big, game-changing play that I have ever made in college. Even looking back in high school there wasn't one big game-changing play that I made.

"You are in awe. I may never have a blocked punt again, so you kind of take it and savor that moment as long as you can."

While Elsworth cherished the blocked punt, he said he has put it in the past and wants to make more of those plays for the Spartans.

"I blocked that punt two years ago now," he said. "I have a lot more contributing that I can do for this team before I can walk off this field and say I did everything I can do. I go out there every down and give everything I have, but I want to make more of those plays and hopefully the way our defense is set up and the way our schemes are ran, that I can be that guy that comes out there and makes more of those game-changing plays."

"Friendships and relationships"

Elsworth said the experience of playing at Michigan State has been great, and making big plays has been a part of that.

"It has been a really good experience coming from being a walk on and being able to make those plays like the blocked punt or a third-down stop or a sack, whatever it is," he said.

While the on-field moments have been great, Elsworth said the real memories from his time at Michigan State are those that aren't limited to five years.

"As a whole, what playing here means to me, I would say friendships and relationships, long-lasting relationships with people here," he said. "I am going to talk to Max Bullough or Ty Hamilton or Connor Kruse, these guys that I live with, for the rest of my life. We joke about my one buddy who has been dating his girlfriend for a number of years now, saying how you guys are the guys I am going to have in my wedding.

"It really brings into retrospect that these are strong relationships that you built here and are never going to leave you."

Five years after staying up at night struggling with the decision between a wrestling scholarship and walking on for football, Elsworth considers himself blessed that the coaches noticed him and gave him a chance.

"I stuck with it and it turned out great for me," he said. "I had a great experience. I have nothing to be upset about. I have one more year and I want to put my stamp on it and leave it as it is."

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