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Spartans Conclude Preseason Camp, Announce 2019 Captains

Posted: 4:40 PM, Aug 22, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-22 16:40:08-04
Brian Lewerke, Raequan Williams, Kenny Willekes, Joe Bachie

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan State football team wrapped up preseason camp on Thursday after three weeks of practice for the upcoming season. The No. 18/20 Spartans will take the next two days off before reporting back to campus on Sunday to begin game preparations for the Friday, Aug. 30 season opener against Tulsa in Spartan Stadium.

Following Thursday’s practice, MSU head coach Mark Dantonio announced the 2019 captains to the team – senior linebacker Joe Bachie, senior quarterback Brian Lewerke, senior defensive end Kenny Willekes and senior defensive tackle Raequan Williams.

Bachie and Lewerke are just the fifth and sixth players under Dantonio to be named captain twice (Kirk Cousins, 2009-10-11; Greg Jones, 2009-10; Max Bullough, 2012-13; Shilique Calhoun, 2014-15).

Below are quotes from Dantonio and the four captains:

Head coach Mark Dantonio

On finishing up the first phase of preseason practice…

What we call first phase is done, and now we move to the second phase that we have to take care of: our out of conference schedule. Been very impressed with our football team – I have really for the last nine months, I’ve said that before. We picked our captains – Raequan Williams, Joe Bachie, Kenny Willekes and Brian Lewerke are the guys. We think in the voting process they were clearly the four guys.

On the team voting four captains…

I sort of figured that it would be. If there’s a gap, then we’re going to have that. If there is two, there will be a gap. I’ve never said we’ve got to have this or that. We’ll still alternate guys in so everybody has an opportunity in our leadership counsel to walk out to that 50 (yard line). They’ve all done a great job of leading right now from that leadership council, and we want to make sure that we honor that.

On Kenny Willekes’ leadership leading up to the season…

He’s a much more vocal leader. Public speaking hasn’t been his trait, didn’t want to really stand up there and do that. He’s sort of gravitated to that – it’s very genuine. He’s a competitor, so he’ll come with it

On the two returning captains and their leadership abilities…

We’ve really got 12 guys. Our leadership council is the same 12 guys that were last (spring). That’s voted on not all at once, that’s two a day for six straight days. Our team really has an opportunity to look at that and evaluate. We’ve got strong leadership – said that before. We’ve got I think nine of those 12 are seniors. They’ve been here, done that, and been involved in some great moments of celebration and then some other times where you have to pull up your boots a little bit.

On what Raequan Williams brings as a captain…

Raequan has been through a lot of things on and off the field. He’s been through adversity and he’s also had great success. He’s made himself a tremendous football player as well. He’s a very giving and unselfish person. If you’re going to lead, that’s where it all starts – because you got to put others in front of you.

On how important today is to recharge the team’s battery…

I think it’s important. You got to step away from football a little bit and you’ve got to be able to…You have an opportunity to maybe go home so a lot of our guys will go. You just can’t grind them down, you got to get your legs back. There is a physical aspect of it, there’s also, I think, a mental aspect of it too. You’ve got to step away and sort of get yourself recharged.

On the first few weeks before game week…

I’ve been very excited. I told our football team today, I don’t think I’ve ever had a camp, certainly since I’ve been a head coach – and not to disrespect anybody else – but our players are built into each other. There’s a great feeling in that respect and I think you go places with that. That’s been very impressive, really from January on and how they’ve taken control. Every time we come out here, they work. They don’t complain about it; they work and they go to work. I think that’s a very positive thing right now.

On the fifth-year seniors being the last connection to the College Football Playoff team…

Here’s the message to our football team: Every single player that has come to Michigan State since 2007 has a ring on their finger – championship ring on their finger – with the exception of the 2016 class. There’s something to shoot for.

On the team health-wise…

We’re nicked up a little bit. Everyone’s a little nicked up right now but we’ll get our guys back. We’ve got a couple guys that might not be back for the first game or so but our starters will all be there.

On the next practice…

We’ll come back and have a walk through on Sunday – brief practice. We’ll move around a little bit more to walk through. We do have a season-ending injury, probably, with (redshirt freshman defensive end) Zach Slade; he has a surgery he has to go through.

On Brian Lewerke’s confidence in his leadership…

I think that when you go through tough times, I think it builds character, to be quite honest with you. He knows what to expect; he had injuries last year, there was some criticism when he did play, after the fact. I think that at the end of it all, it has to make you stronger. You have to use those things to allow yourself to become stronger and more resilient. I think he’s become that. I think he’s had a great camp. I think he’s ready to go; he’s very healthy and he looks like he’s returned to what he’s been.

Senior LB Joe Bachie

On what it means to be him being named a two-time team captain…

It means more to me than a Big Ten selection, any preseason thing. Being a captain has always been a goal of mine growing up, you know, leading teams. Once I got to the college level I wanted it to be my goal, and now a two-time captain – it means a ton to me. I’m going to carry that with me the rest of my life.

On what he said to the team during his senior speech…

This place just means everything to me. You come to a place like Michigan State, you get great coaches – you build friendships forever. I got guys who will be in my wedding someday. This place has given me everything I can ask for.

On changes from last year’s leadership style…

I’m going to approach everything the same way. I’m going to continue to just watch the extra film, lead people out here, bring the same energy I bring in the weight room that I do on the field. I’m not going to change any of that. Last year we went through some adversity, I learned some things throughout that. How to pick people up, when to pick people up. That’s something that a bunch of us went through – Brian (Lewerke) was a leader last year as well. We can talk about his part. He had a down year a little bit, his leadership stayed the same and everyone still trusted him.

I’m going to stay true to myself, not try to step outside any of my boundaries or anything I’m not supposed to do. I’m going to do my job. I’m going to lead everyone; I’m going to bring energy everyday like we need. I’ve learned from some of the adversity that we went through last year. You look at some of the losses, we had tough losses. Offense not scoring so much, defense having lapses in the fourth quarter – things like that. Hopefully, I can take that experience into the fourth quarter and any games with me this year.

On if he was surprised of four team captains…

I think the biggest surprise that we were all waiting on was if it was going to be three or four. We kind of had an idea, me and Brian (Lewerke), Raequan (Williams), Kenny (Willekes). You can even look at David Dowell and a bunch of guys on this team who could have been captains. Once it was four, we kind of had an idea it was going to be this four. It’s truly an honor to be a captain with these guys.

On his thoughts on the other captains…

These are just great guys. You could put other guys here too, but these four right here we worked really well together through the adversity of last year these guys were still leaders. Maybe they weren’t captains, but they’ve been through it and they understand what it takes to win because they’ve also seen that ’15 team get to a Big Ten Championship.

On Kenny Willekes and what he’s seen from him so far this fall…

When you see guys are professionals, you see they always get better at something. Every year since I’ve been here, he’s gotten better at something. This year, it was his leadership. His leadership has grown a ton, being able to talk. He’s vocal in front of people now. Every step of the way he’s gotten better and that’s what is going to make him a better player this year and hopefully beyond that point.

Senior QB Brian Lewerke

On taking a little break before getting back to business…

Yeah, it will feel good to get the body rested a little bit. We’ve been going pretty hard for the past couple weeks, so this weekend will be nice.

On getting into game week next week…

Start really putting our focus on identifying everything that Tulsa does, try to figure out a way to beat them.

On this team’s ability to lead

I think it comes from younger guys stepping up, being more mature, and becoming leaders among their own position groups and even in front of the whole team. Obviously the seniors have that natural position, but those younger guys – sophomores and juniors – that are really stepping up and doing that.

On what he’s learned over the past few years that’s helped become a better leader…

Figuring out how to stay positive in times that are a little down. Last year definitely helped figure that out, and I think I can use that a lot for the better this year.

On changes in leadership style…

I’m always going to try and lead to the best of my ability. Whatever happens, happens. I didn’t really say ‘I need to be a captain,’ it’s just something I strive to do.

On mentioning to guys about keeping the championship streak going…

I hadn’t even really thought about it until Coach D mentioned it in one of our team meetings. It kind of hit me like, ‘Man, there’s only a couple of us fifth-years left on the team that were part of that team.’ None of us really played in that game, so it was kind of a free ring. We kind of wanted to earn one ourselves and earn one for everyone else on this team.

On how excited he is about the team…

The leadership abilities of everyone. Obviously, the skill level is incredible – but just how everyone leads and cooperates. It’s a good mix of a good family.

On the importance of the team having continuity in the leadership…

I think it’s good, just to have familiar faces and to have guys that have been though it and they know the rules and what comes with the expectations of being captain. Me and Joe can help lead the ropes for these guys and even for other guys on the team.

On four seniors being selected…

I think the guys that are in our age group are good leaders. We have a bunch of seniors, like I said, that could probably be in this position too. I’m just very grateful to be in this position, I would say.

On chasing the ring and the 2016 class being the only one without one…

Obviously, it started about a month ago with camp and it’s going to continue with each phase that we do; we just finished phase one, we’re about to start phase two. Focusing on every game and not thinking ahead to a different game; just focusing on winning one game at a time.

I was saying this to someone else, obviously, the fifth-years were part of that championship but we didn’t really do much to get that; we kind of want to be part of the team that participated and earned our own ring. We want to allow everyone on this team to be able to have that experience.

On what it means to be a two-year captain…

Being a quarterback, I’m in a natural position of leadership. I think just being a captain kind of solidifies that. It’s good to be in this position.

On how he’s developed as a leader after last season…

I think I’ve just grown and become more comfortable talking to people – just become more comfortable with public speaking, I guess. Being a leader is a lot more than that; it’s being a good example and keeping guys on track and keeping them doing the right thing. I think this year I can be much better.

On being able to share the captaincy with three other people…

It’s great. I think it just shows that there is a bunch of leaders on this team; even beyond us four, there can be anyone that can be a captain. I think there’s just great leadership overall on this team as a whole.

I think it says a lot. There is a ton of leaders on this team, and beyond us four there’s a good majority of people that can also be captains. We have great leadership on this team.

On what he’s learned and will change going into his second year as captain…

I don’t know if there’s anything specific, but overall being a positive influence on people; staying positive and trying to be that light of leading people in the right direction and being a voice of the team when they need it.

Senior DE Kenny Willekes

On Zach Slade being out for the year…

It definitely hurts us. Zach Slade was a player – he was definitely coming along – he was going to be in the rotation this year. He’s improved his game immensely, down to the small details when he came in. You could see he had talent, you could see he knew how to play a little raw. He really took it upon himself to focus on the small details this camp to improve his game. Not having him hurts but it’s that next man up mentality. We’ve got a lot of guys on this football team that are ready to play, ready to compete so we’re going to be good.

On finishing his last camp…

It's crazy. I finished my last camp today. It feels like it went by in a blur but we’re excited; we’re ready to get the season started. I feel like it’s been a long offseason, we’ve been kind of dragging on a lot of talk about this upcoming season and we’re ready to get it started.

On how much he’s changed as a leader…

I feel I’ve grown immensely. We always talk about trying to improve in areas and that was an area I needed to improve. When I came here I wasn’t that good of a speaker, I was pretty bad at it. Coach D made me get up in front of the team and I kind of forgot what I was saying. He just called me up there randomly so I was trying to think of something and mid-sentence I forgot what I was saying. That was kind of embarrassing, a little bit humbling for me; I had to go back and sit in my seat mid-speech. They’ve challenged me; They’ve made me get up in front of the team, they’ve made me get up in front of people and talk a lot so I think I’ve grown a lot in that area. I’m thankful for them pushing me and making me do these things.

On what it means to him to be named captain…

It’s an honor to be selected as one of four captains on a team of 110-120 guys. To be selected and be voted by your teammates as a captain is truly an honor.

On the other three captains…

I’ve been with these other three guys for five years; Joe (Bachie) for four and a half. These are guys that are going to bring it each and every day; whether they’re having a bad day, whether they’re having a good day – they’re going to bring leadership, they’re going to bring others along. All three of them are outstanding leaders, hard workers and great men. It’s an honor to be selected as a captain and it’s even more of an honor to be selected as a captain with these three.

On having started as a walk-on and working his way up to being a captain…

Coming in as a walk-on, you don’t expect five years later you’re going to be voted team captain and have the opportunity to be a team captain. It teaches you to be grateful and appreciative of the things you have when you come from being a walk-on, paying for your own school, not being able to get as many reps as you would like. Once you have to earn everything, it allows you to appreciate it and be grateful and thankful for the things that you have.

On his contagious energy and lead by example leadership style…

That’s something that I try to bring each and every day. I’m excited. Each and every day I get to come out here, I get to hang out with my best friends, I get to play the sport I love. I’m truly blessed and I’m grateful for that opportunity each and every day to come out here. I try to bring energy and excitement each and every day.

On if he thinks he put himself in a position to be captain…

I just try to be a leader, bring energy and enthusiasm each and every day. I hope my teammates see that and I hope I receive their votes, that was before obviously, now I know that I am a captain. It’s humbling; it’s an honor to know that out of 120 guys, 110 guys on a team, I was one of four selected. I’m humbled and I’m honored.

On if there will be any changes for him going forward this season…

Honestly, I don’t think a lot changes. It’s been my mindset to try and be a leader each and every day, regardless of if it’s a bad day, regardless of it’s a good day, for me or the team. I try to come in and bring energy and be a leader each and every day. Continue to try and build on that and try to improve each and every day to make myself a better leader but I don’t think much changes because I’ve been trying to do it since I got on campus.

Senior DT Raequan Williams

On what it means to be named a captain…

We got to lead this team. When there’s anything going wrong, you have to make things right. You got to still lead your guys and take care of them every day. I’m very appreciative and honored to be in this position. It means everything honestly – it means the world. They view me as a leader and they actually voted me to be a captain so it means the world to me, honestly, that all those guys think that highly of me.

On being a guy that isn’t known to be vocal…

I’ve been way more vocal this summer because I see guys view me as a leader. Stepping outside of my box instead of leading by example – telling the young guys what to do is the same thing too.

On three of the front seven being captains…

It’s crazy – it’s kind of unheard of, but it means the world. I’m happy to have my guys in this position. It really means the world, honestly.

On being able to use this later in life…

It shows me that I’m on the right track, doing the right thing. Those guys voted me to be a captain so they like the way I handle myself and the way I go about the team. I feel like that gives me a perspective of I’m on the right track and I can keep going.

On if he ever imagined he would be a captain when he came to Michigan State…

No I didn’t, honestly. I just wanted to get better every day.

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