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The Spartan Nation is well aware at how far Mark Dantonio has brought the Spartan program since his arrival. When he arrived, Spartan football had become a laughing stock nationally with no respect from their rivals. As he enters his tenth season, oh how times have changed.

As the Furman Paladins come to the High Cathedral of the Spartan Nation: Spartan Stadium tomorrow night, how far Mark Dantonio has brought the Spartans will be on display. How can a division 1AA team coming to Spartan Stadium prove that? The answer is very simple.

Reese Hannon is the star QB for the Paladins. Located in South Carolina, Furman was in hot pursuit of Hannon. He has proven their faith and desire in him to be well founded as he is a rare four year captain. The young man is not only a great leader with a super arm, but is also a star in the classroom majoring in religion and communications. He is considering going to seminary after the season or possibly heading into the business world, either way he has a connection to MSU legend and current NFL Washington Redskins QB Kirk Cousins.

While the Paladins were recruiting Hannon they sent him a link to the video of Kirk Cousins now famous speech at the 2011 B1G Football Kickoff luncheon. The Paladin coaches felt like Hannon was a lot like Cousins with his talent on the field and strong Christian faith off of it. They sold Hannon on the fact he could be the Paladin’s Kirk Cousins.

He joined me on Spartan Nation Radio this week and told me, “It’s funny to talk about Kirk Cousins. When I was a senior in high school and being recruited by Furman, my coach (at Furman) sent me a video. At the time I didn’t know who it was of, Kirk Cousins speech at Big Ten media day. They told me to ‘watch this, this guy reminds me a lot of you and your values.’ It was spot on and I have continued to watch that video several times over the years just to remind myself of my values and what I am really here for. It is pretty cool to bring up Kirk Cousins because of the way it worked out. “

For Hannon, who is now a star in his own right, looking up to Cousins has never stopped. He is still a big fan to this day and watches him intently and the success that he has had. Getting to play in Cousins’ home stadium is a big deal for the talented QB and tremendous young man.

“Since Coach sent me that video when I was in high school, I have kept up with Kirk Cousins and I have become a Kirk Cousins fan because of that. It is kind of cool to have watched him when I didn’t know really who he was, then to watch him for a year at Michigan State and then to watch him in Washington. It is going to be fun to go up and play, where he played college ball.”

Furman Paladin head coach Bruce Fowler was also on Spartan Nation Radio with me this week. Growing up in Cincinnati he has fond memories of spending many summers up in Charlevoix at his family’s cottage.   I asked him about using Cousins to indirectly recruit Hannon. He spoke fondly of the memory.

“That was a very impressive thing when Kirk went and gave that speech. I remember when our offensive coordinator brought that (video of the speech) in and asked if I had seen this. What he (Cousins) said at the time was just so impressive. We knew that Reese Hannon had those qualities and that was important to him. We wanted him to know that we were proud of Kirk Cousins and what he represented and the things that he said. That is kind of how we try to operate. We sent it to him and said ‘this is a pretty cool thing and this is what we think of you and what you can be like and the influence you can have on our community. That was a pretty neat thing.”

After interviewing the Furman head coach and QB I had to ask Mark Dantonio about the stature of the program he has built, considering he is now playing teams that use his former players as recruiting tools. The Spartan head man was humble saying, “I think we have 34 players in NFL camps right now. Kirk is a franchise player for the Redskins. I think he’s that, not just because he’s a great player but because he brings so many other things to the table, as well. That was recognized here, and I think that’s recognized across America right now, when you say the name Kirk Cousins it speaks more — that’s a testament to this program and what he was able to accomplish here. You know, at least he’ll get an opportunity to be here and it will be exciting for him.”

So what is Hannon planning on doing when his career is done? “I got several options on the table. I have looked at several seminaries. My faith is very important to me and I have some skills that I think can help some people in their lives. One thing that is important to me is that wherever I am, I don’t have to go to seminary to be a preacher, I can go into the business world or coach football, every job will present to me an opportunity to minister to others. My focus will be on helping other people.”

Sure #12 Michigan State is favored to and should crush division 1AA Furman on Friday. There is no shame in that, but that doesn’t make this game any less important to either school. I guess you could almost call this game, THE KIRK COUSINS Bowl.

This one thing is certain. Wear your green and white, cheer loud and enjoy the opening game of the season, but the school that has looked to Mark Dantonio and Kirk Cousins for inspiration is represented by some great people.

MSU may have nearly 50,000 enrolled students and Furman may have barely 2,700, but this David and Goliath matchup has great people on both sides, thanks in part to one of the best in Spartan ICON Kirk Cousins.