EAST LANSING — Michigan State celebrated its winningest senior class Sunday afternoon, holding the football team banquet at the Breslin Center.
The outgoing players leave having run up a 43-11 (.781) record, including two Big Ten titles over the past three seasons while going 22-2 in conference games in that span.
“Right now,” MSU director of player personnel Dino Folino said, “you’re witnessing the Golden Age of Spartan football.”
Aaron Burbridge, the 2015 Big Ten Receiver of the Year, was voted the team MVP by his teammates, while quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun won the Downtown Coaches Club Offensive and Defensive Outstanding Senior Awards.
Coach Mark Dantonio put the team’s accomplishments into perspective, and then singled out Cook and Calhoun for individual praise.
“You’ve been ranked No. 3, No. 5 and No. 6 in the last three years … that hasn’t happened at Michigan State since 1955, 56, 57 — 60 years ago,” Dantonio said. “You truly have captured a half-century of football, and you set the standard of how we will be measured here.
“I want to particularly thank Shilique Calhoun and Connor Cook, last year in January they made a decision to come back as opposed to going out for the draft,” he said. “They made a decision to come back because of the people here … to win a championship, and that was accomplished.
“This could not have happened without those two individuals coming back.”
MSU President Lou Anna Simon, addressed the players, coaches and their families at the start of the banquet.
“It’s not wins, and it’s not statistics, alone, those are important, and every unit has them,” Simon said. “It is what stands behinds those numbers that is really important.
“I’m equally proud of the amazing things they’ve done in the class room.
This is the strongest APR we’re ever had, and it has gone up and up as the wins have gone up. I’m also proud of what they’ve done in the community.”
Cook, MSU’s all-time leading passer, said while attending the Green-White game on Saturday that this outgoing class was all about dedication.
“The kind of players that Coach D recruits, they’re not always the 5 stars, the All-Americans,” said Cook, whose only Big Ten scholarship offer came from the Spartans. “He recruits guys who are just quality, character individuals, and guys who are going to work hard.
“We talk about earning the green jersey, no matter who you are.”
The Spartans tied a Big Ten record with four straight bowl victories from 2012-2015, including the 100th Rose Bowl, leading into the program’s first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff.
“But it’s going to be tough to beat this season for fantastic finishes — this year was full of them,” said Mitch Lyons, a former MSU player and current board of trustees member.
“This year they showed us that every second counts, even if its the last 10, which was another fantastic moment.”
The 10 seconds Lyons was referring to, of course, involved Jalen Watts-Jackson’s 38-yard fumble return for a touchdown in MSU’s 27-23 win over Michigan. The now famous play began with 10 seconds left.
The Spartans went 6-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less in 2015, also capping a 6-2 mark against teams ranked in the top 10 dating back to Jan. 1, 2014.
“The senior class showed leadership, determination, perseverance and outright toughness, but I think everyone contributed,” Calhoun said. “I think we did leave a mark here.
“It’s been great to be out there with the guys … having the opportunity to be around great people has made me a better person.”
Here’s a look at the awards:
Governor’s Award (Most Valuable Player): wide receiver Aaron Burbridge
Downtown Coaches Club Award: Outstanding Senior Defense – defensive end Shilique Calhoun
Downtown Coaches Club Award: Outstanding Senior Offense – quarterback Connor Cook
Outstanding Underclass Lineman: Offense – offensive tackle Jack Conklin; Defense – defensive tackle Malik McDowell
Biggie Munn Award (Most Inspirational): Offense – center Jack Allen; Defense – linebacker Riley Bullough
President’s Award (Senior Lineman/Senior Back Perseverance): Offense – tight end Paul Lang; Defense – cornerback Arjen Colquhoun.
Jim Adams Award (Unsung Heroes): Offense – fullback Trevon Pendleton; Defense – linebacker Chris Frey
Danziger Award (Outstanding Detroit Area Players): wide receiver Aaron Burbridge & defensive lineman Lawrence Thomas.
Iron Man Award (Strength and conditioning): linebacker Darien Harris
Tommy Love Award (Most Improved): Offense – offensive lineman Benny McGowan; Defense – linebacker Jon Reschke
Clarence Underwood (Sportsmanship Award): Offense – offensive guard Donavon Clark; Defense – defensive tackle Joel Heath
MSU Football Players Association Community Service Award: tight end Josiah Price
Doug Weaver Oil Can (Team Humorist): linebacker Riley Bullough
Downtown Coaches Club Award: Outstanding Senior Special Teams – snapper Taybor Pepper
Potsy Ross (Scholar-Athlete): quarterback Tommy Vento
Cowing Award (Senior Manager Award) & Con Demos Scholarship (Manager): Dan Kalchik