But the time kickoff came Saturday, the senior was not on the field when the Spartans’ defense went out for the first series.
”I forgot,” he said. “I literally forgot I was starting. … I was just chilling and then (coach Mark Dantonio) told me I was supposed to be out there.”
It had been roughly three years since Lippett had played cornerback, having started five games there in 2011 before shifting to be solely a receiver in 2012. That changed on Saturday as the senior – and the Big Ten’s leading receiver – was penciled in to start in the secondary.
He picked it right back up as he recorded two pass breakups and made a strong tackle in the open field.
”He fit right in with the No Fly Zone,” safety Kurtis Drummond said. “He's done it before. I had a lot of confidence in him. …
”He's an athlete. It was anything nerve-racking for me. Tony made some great plays, great tackles. He brought insight for us too. It was fun being able to play with him again.
The decision to play Lippett at corner came for a pair of reasons, Dantonio said, neither of which was focused on giving the senior a tribute as a two-way player. Instead, it was done to help a position that had been struggling in recent weeks and to boost Lippett’s NFL resume.
”It’s not a tribute,” Dantonio said. “You have got to earn your way into that. We are not just playing to him play. … He has started at corner for us before, so that adds to his draft status or whatever it is. It gives people a look at him in that area.
”He could start for us on either side and I have always maintained that is possible to do that. When I say to a guy that he has a chance to start on both sides of the ball, I mean that. He is guy that we have said that about and we are going to do that.”
The move could continue to next week, as Dantonio said Lippett “probably” will continue to get snaps at corner when the Spartans play Penn State.
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said there remains complete confidence in sophomores Darian Hicks and Demetrious Cox, the latter of whom started when Lippett did not get onto the field. On Saturday, it was just a matter of Lippett being “the guy.”
”Tony is such a good player and we got a chance to showcase him a little bit,” Narduzzi said. “It was good for him because he’s got some great stuff that can be used at the next level, too.”
On the offensive side, Lippett broke the 1,000-yard receiving mark on the season with his first reception of the game, which went for nine yards. He finished the game with 72 yards on five catches with a 30-yard touchdown.
But on Saturday, he showed his value to Michigan State comes on both sides of the ball.
”I played corner here before,” he said. “So when (Dantonio) wanted to ask me about the situation first, I just tried to embrace it, to go out there, have fun, play loose and try to compete.”