Five years ago, Connor Kruse was in the midst of a state title chase as a senior at Lowell High School.
The Red Arrows standout offensive lineman was helping pave the way for a rushing attack what would eventually win the Division 2 state title with a 29-6 win against Inkster.
A couple months later, he decided to walk on at Michigan State, as he said “screw the money” to other schools to “see what happens” – something he says has been worth it all the way.
”It’s been amazing, the friendships I’ve gained from here, the people I’ve met, the people I’ve played against,” he said. “To know I’ve blocked against Shilique Calhoun or (Ryan) Shazier for Ohio State, these are people who made the NFL. It’s something that can never be taken away from me. I was able to play against these people.
”Even Devin Gardner from Inkster, who I played against in the state finals, to be able to play against the past two years and beat him again and again and again, it’s awesome. It’s something that will live with me forever and it’s just amazing.”
Kruse spent his first two seasons of being a Spartan as a walk on, but at the beginning of his third year, he was put on scholarship by coach Mark Dantonio. It was something he always hoped for when he came to East Lansing.
”I got called up to his office and I was positive I was in trouble,” Kruse said. “I thought for sure I did something wrong. I was nervous and I got in there and he told me I was going to give me a scholarship. It was probably the happiest day of my life. I called my mom right after. I called Travis (Jackson) right after.
”It was the greatest day of my life to be able to say I earned a scholarship to Michigan State University and now being able to play for Michigan State University. It exceeded my expectations.”
Things kept progressing for Kruse, who started seeing more time as a sophomore in 2012. He got even more in the mix in 2013, as the Spartans won the Rose Bowl and he played in 13 of 14 games – stepping in at all five offensive line positions and being a key member of an eight-man rotation.
With the graduation of three starters, Kruse’s role expanded as he entered 2014 preseason camp as the starting right guard. An injury derailed the start of the season temporarily, but since he returned, he has been back starting.
“That was the dream,” he said. “That’s what I wanted, but it’s just every day I wanted to do this so I worked my tail off and kept working and working and I was lucky enough last year to play a decent amount and this year be able to start, so it’s been a dream come true.”
As he readies for his final career game at Spartan Stadium, Kruse said there is one memory that stands above the rest from his career at Michigan State: The Rose Bowl.
”That is something that was so special for not only me but the seniors above me, the guys below me, that’s something that will live with you,” he said. “It was the 100th Rose Bowl, the last BCS Pac 12 vs Big Ten ever. That’s amazing that I was a part of it.
”If anything, if I had to lose every other memory, the week of the Rose Bowl with my buddies and my teammates and my coaches, I’d take that over anything.”
And as his senior day awaits, Kruse said he is just trying not to think about it too much as he completes a journey that started as a walk on.
”It’s tough and I’m going to try not to think about it before the game,” he said. “After the game, I’ll be like alright that was it and it will probably be pretty emotional. It’s emotional now, but I’m trying to not think about it as much.”