Giving back to the extended family of Spartans who have traveled through East Lansing is a priority for Dantonio, and this weekend's Green and White game tribute to former Spartan legend George Webster, who died suddenly last year at age 61, is a testament to that devotion.
From 1965-66, Michigan State blasted its competition to the tune of a 19-1-1 record and Webster was a big reason for that. The revolutionary cornerback earned consensus All-American honors twice while wearing the green and white and was eventually inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
"I think George Webster … is one of the great players here," coach Mark Dantonio said today before practice.
Last season the team wore a patch in remembrance of Webster, but Dantonio feels the program needed to do more to honor one of their all-time greats.
"I just think that, in light of last year and how sudden that was … we wanted to honor him and have a little bit more thought behind it," he said.
In addition to respecting the legacy of a superb football player, Dantonio also hopes to build awareness of Webster's greatness as a man of the community.
The George Webster Scholarship Fund, established last year through Jim Nelson, assists two former student athletes with reentry into college to finish their degrees. Antonio Smith and Richard Newsome are the first beneficiaries of the generosity of fellow Spartans.
"It just gives them a little bit of substance and help," Dantonio said.
A Spartan in Need
Last year, one of Dantonio's prized recruits faced the greatest of obstacles with a diagnosis of cancer: Doctors discovered a tumor in offensive lineman Arthur Ray's leg.
After a 14-hour surgery and a few knock-out rounds of chemotherapy, Ray rid his body of the disease.
Another roadblock has sprung up, however. A bacterial infection set in from the marathon surgery and plans to rejoin the team are now on hold as he battles for his health.
But the Spartan family is making sure he won't be alone physically, spiritually or financially. MSU quickly established a fund (see below) to assist Ray's family with mounting medical bills.
"I'm glad we were able to do that," Dantonio said. "Arthur Ray's a guy that is … battling that whole aspect, trying to get back, and his family has incurred quite a few medical bills. So anything … people can do to help in that regard (we) just want to bring public awareness to that."
The Extended Family
Dantonio and the coaching staff will host a cadre of kids at the free annual youth clinic held in Spartan Stadium before the spring game this Saturday.
"It should be great," Dantonio said. Over 700 youngsters participated in the event last year.
"Our players work with those young people and that's what's so exciting about it," Dantonio said. "You get to see some of our players taking those guys and work them through drills and just sort of befriending them."
Dantonio covets witnessing the interaction his team shares with their pint-sized fans.
"I think it allows young people to come up close and personal with Spartan football players," he said.
Building relationships and forging bonds through interaction is what Michigan State is all about under Dantonio's leadership.
After all, as Don Corleone reminded us, "A man that doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."
To assist the Ray family in their time of need, send donations to:
Arthur Ray Fundraiser
c/o MSU Federal Credit Union
600 East Crescent Drive
East Lansing, MI 48823
Or call: 1-800-MSU-4-YOU for more information