Tom & Lupe Izzo Media Center
East Lansing, MI
Tyler O’Connor is the pride of Lima, Ohio and now the unquestioned leader of the only program to finish the season in the top six of the nation the last three years. That is high praise for the young man, but don’t’ mistake O’Connor being named the starter as a rite of passage. He earned.
Now that he has let there be no doubt that he has the complete confidence of his coach and teammates. Dantonio said, “I read the articles on him and talking about his past and everything. It says a lot about him, first of all, as a person, and his diligence and him looking at the big picture of things. He’s had a great camp. Nobody’s dislodged him. He’s thrown the ball very effectively with knowing where to go with the ball and I think his arm strength is very, very good. He’s got the ability to move and he understands our offense very, very well. Scale of one to 10, probably 10.”
That if course is high praise, and the coach elaborated saying, “I think everything is in order for him. My, I guess, my message to him is: Be yourself, understand there’s going to be criticism and just if you make a mistake, go at it 100 percent and bounce back from it. It’s tough being a quarterback at any level, especially at this level in football, because you get a lot of criticism, much of it, you know, people that don’t understand the nuances of what he’s going through. So he’s got to roll with it a little bit, but he’ll be fine. He’s a competitor and he’s prepared himself for this moment and he’s got a great supporting cast around him. “
For O’Connor who is entering his fifth season in East Lansing, he is just glad his time to lead is upon him. “I have never been so anxious for a game so early. Last time I was so anxious for a game, I think it was about 11 p.m. the night before the Ohio State game. I am very excited. It is something I have been waiting for a long time for. This week can’t go quick enough.”
But don’t think O’Connor only has the confidence of his coach. His teammates love him. In fact fellow senior R.J. Shelton doesn’t think he needs any help. “For me, I don’t need to give ‘T.O.’ (Tyler O’Connor) advice. He leads the huddle. He does everything the right way. I believed in him when he came in last year. I believe in any quarterback that we have at Michigan State. So, with him, just be poised like he always does and have fun and get the job done, which he will.”
Another fifth year senior is starting center Kodi Kieler who likes his quarterback’s confidence. “He has been doing great back there. He is a great leader. He is a guy we all want to follow behind. Getting the reps and him getting all of the throws has been fun this camp.”
Kieler can’t hide his affection for his friend and QB. Was he excited to see him keep command of the job? “For sure. Tyler is a great guy. He is a great friend first. He is a great teammate. It is kind of cool for him finally to be able to go out there and start as a senior. It is awesome.”
So has O’Connor thought about running out of the Spartan tunnel for the first time as the Spartans head man? “You can finally go out there like it is your team. I have always kind of sat back and let the seniors go out first, let Connor (Cook) go out there first, things like that. Finally, I will have no problem being out there in front with Coach D as we walk out together leading the team and everything like that. It will definitely be a different feel knowing that everybody is behind me and everything like that and it is kind of my team now.”
O’Connor is a very deep person. He is reflective and kind. With being patient waiting for four years, does he plan on cherishing every moment of his fifth season in East Lansing? “One of the things they always say is to turn the minutes into moments. It is something you really have to cherish. Even going through camp, it is tough for everybody and it is not necessarily fun, but this year, it is different. You enjoy practices. You enjoy the time in between practices much more. You really do appreciate all of the grind, everything you go through, to appreciate these moments even more, like this Friday night.”
But make no mistake folks. Leading the Spartan program is not all roses. There are high expectations and the Spartans don’t rebuild, they reload. Spartan Nation expects the success of the past to continue and that brings pressure.
Pressure isn’t bad, stress is and O’Connor insists that the most pressure is from inside his own head and heart. “There is pressure, but coming from within, I don’t think there is any pressure. I think I have the full support. I had to meet with Coach D yesterday and he mentioned how much support he had for me and how confident he was for me and how excited he was for me. Hearing that from the most important guy is very comforting and Coach D has done a great of job making me feel comfortable and giving me what I want or whenever I have questions answering them for me. Not necessarily pressure, but I feel very confident.”
He should. He is a very talented player on a very talented team. #12 in the nation for a reason, look for O’Connor to continue to build on the success Spartan Nation is used to. A great person and talented QB, he is ready to take the Spartans to another level in 2016.