He has been a Denard Robinson imitation on the scout team and a wide receiver turned cornerback. He spent time as a much-maligned wide receiver then a solid player last season.
Now, he is a go-to receiver for the Spartans.
”Tony been a great player for us last year and he really responded this year,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “I think he’s grown as a leader. I think he’s got outstanding skills and he’s doing everything he needs to do.”
Lippett enters Michigan State’s Saturday game against Eastern Michigan leading the Big Ten in receiving yards per game (150.0). He has 300 yards on 15 receptions in two games, while his three touchdowns already set a new career high.
He has the lone two 100-yard games of his career in the first pair of this season, with a career-high 167 yards against Jacksonville State and a career-high 11 receptions against Oregon.
It is a far cry from where he was in his sophomore season as the Spartans wide receiver corps were heavily criticized for drops and struggling to make plays down the field.
“Going through what we did, it definitely made me stronger,” Lippett said Thursday. “It definitely made me compete better and definitely made me grind a little bit harder and just take everything a lot more serious than I took it.
”It basically made me mentally strong by not pointing at everyone else why things went wrong. It was just standing in the mirror and seeing what I could have done better.”
That manifested itself as Lippett led the team with 44 receptions in 2013 as the wide receiver were part of a much-improved Michigan State offense. He had two touchdowns, one in the Big Ten Championship Game and the game-winning score in the Rose Bowl.
He said there was no moment where things clicked, but there were talks that led to his development.
“It was a probably a lot of conversations and a lot of points where I felt like I could be a go-to guy,” he said. “Just talking to Connor, I just told him no matter what I’m going to always try and attack the ball no matter how many people are on me.”
So he put in hard work and focused on developing mental toughness and confidence, which led to the turnaround.
”I try to work on my craft a lot and I’m going against a great defense everyday so that helped my confidence, too,” he said.
Senior safety Kurtis Drummond said it was never a matter of talent for the Spartans wide receiver, but the light went on when they got their confidence going. When it comes to Lippett, he said the work he put in this offseason has led to him being the go-to receiver.
”I really think he just took the mindset that nobody can mess with him and I think he really understands that he is an elite receiver and he is one of the best receivers in the country,” Drummond said. “I think he truly believes that and you see that when he is out here.”
It is something junior quarterback Connor Cook has seen as he worked with Lippett this offseason. Now, he has completed 15 of his 41 completions to Lippett through two games and praised him for his work.
“You can count on him for pretty much anything,” Cook said. “He just goes up and makes plays. If you put the ball up, he is going to go up and get it.
”He will make a play after the catch and break a tackle and that’s just reassuring as a quarterback, having a guy like him who is as big as he is who can go up and make plays and is as fast as he is.”
But with the physical differences like adding six pounds of muscle this offseason and the mental strides, the process of becoming a go-to receiver came back to one thing above all else.
“It comes with hard work,” he said. “Hard work always pays off in some kind of way.”