The Future is Now

"During the second half of the season, I worked on improving my awareness. As I got a better feel for the game, I was really able to pick up my tempo. Coming out of high school, the biggest challenge for me was adjusting to the speed of the game." – Spartan SAM linebacker Greg Jones, named recently named to's Freshman All-American team.

EAST LANSING - The outstanding play of true freshmen on defense contributed to Michigan State playing in Orlando at the Champs Sports Bowl.

Oren Wilson and Antonio Jeremiah provided depth in the rough-and-tumble interior of the defensive line. Chris L. Rucker logged time on the island of cornerback, filling in as a starter before a detached retina ended his season.

But Greg Jones is the player who has made the biggest immediate impact fresh out of high school. He was recently named to the first team of's Freshman All-American team.

The strong-side linebacker played in all 12 games and stepped into a starting role by Northwestern. By the end of the season, he led the Spartans with 73 tackles, 7.5 of which were for a loss, while 3.5 were sacks.

Jones was at his best against the stiffest of competition against top-ranked Ohio State, recording a career best and Michigan State season high 14 tackles.

"Greg is a big-play guy, who plays with a tremendous amount of effort," coach Mark Dantonio said in an MSU release.

The accolades aren't new. Earlier in the season, after a tough win against Pittsburgh in which Jones made an important stop on third-and-short, Dantonio had this to say: "Greg's a football player - you know he is a true freshman - so he may make some mistakes but he's going to come and play. He's got great power and explosiveness and he'll run to the football and make plays."

Jones embodies the kind of aggressive, committed play Dantonio demands from his defensive unit. "He's an instinctive player, who seeks contact," Dantonio said. "Greg comes to the field every day with a willingness to work."

That kind of contribution from Jones and other freshman is what helped the Spartans reach bowl-play for the first time since 2003. Few, if anyone at all, expected a young player like Jones, who competed against a talented starter like SirDarean Adams for playing time, to contribute so much so soon. Jones didn't either.

"Coming into this season, I just wanted to get some playing time," he said. "During preseason camp, (coach Dantonio) and (coach Mike) Tressel told me that they would give me an opportunity and that's all I could have asked for. I just tried to do my best and take advantage of those opportunities."

Jones will return next season along with Rucker, who played the entire game against Notre Dame in the Spartan's first road game of the season. He finished the season having played in seven games before an eye injury, accumulating 23 tackles and an interception.

Wilson, who played in all 12 games himself, recorded 10 tackles, assisted on a tackle for loss and even broke up two passes. Jeremiah, who is a bigger presence than Wilson (322 pounds to Wilson's 290 pounds), entered the season with greater expectations for playing time than Wilson, but appeared in only five games. Jeremiah should mature into the position, however, and along with Wilson the tandem could set a high standard for future Spartans.

But the future seems brightest at linebacker, where Jones will lead a young group for years to come. "He's going to be an outstanding player for us for the next three years," Dantonio says.

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