Both players were relatively undervalued coming out of high school, each earning a two-star rating from recruiting database Rivals.com. And they both emerged as talented players during their sophomore seasons, as they each earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.
Now, just as Dennard had to do, Waynes will now be charged with replacing a star corner.
Dennard’s junior season was impressive, being named first-team All-Big Ten. But he had a lot of help through playing on the other side of Johnny Adams, who is considered one of the Spartans’ better corners of all time.
Adams himself was a first-team All-Big Ten member and ranked in the top 10 on Michigan State’s all-time list in passes defended, interceptions and interception return yards.
Dennard was handed the reigns to the secondary for his senior season and the result was nothing less than legendary. He became the first Spartan to win the Jim Thorpe Award, the first Spartan to be a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (given to the nation’s top defensive player), and the first Spartan corner to be an unanimous first-team All-American.
Talking about big shoes to fill might be a bit of an understatement here. No matter the difficulty level, Waynes will be charged with keeping up the reputation of the “No-Fly Zone.”
“I feel like I have to fill his spot,” Waynes told ESPN.com. “I basically just have to continue to do what I was doing and hopefully not take any steps back. There is a tradition of great cornerbacks here, and I’m trying to continue that.”
Although he only has one full year of starting under his belt, he appears to have all the tools to be the next great Spartan corner.
Waynes had 50 tackles last season and recorded three interceptions, including a huge, acrobatic pick in the second half of the Rose Bowl against Stanford.
On top of that, he has the size and speed to be an elite corner as well. Waynes measures in at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds and has been clocked in the 4.3 second range in the 40-yard dash.
Speed comes natural to the Kenosha, Wis. native, as both of his parents ran track in college and his younger brother currently runs at Eastern Michigan University. During his sophomore season, he drew praise from the Michigan State coaching staff.
“He had a good year for us last year, and he’s got two years left, hopefully,” head coach Mark Dantonio told ESPN.com. “I think he has the ability to be a shutdown guy and a top player for us.”
Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi agreed.
“The most impressive thing is how consistent that guy’s been since the TCU game two years ago. He hasn’t looked back and had a bad day since,” Narduzzi added. “He’s got ball skills, and he’s tough. What else do you want in a corner?”
If you are a fan who is worried about replacing departing secondary members such as Dennard and Isaiah Lewis, fret no more. Returning players like Waynes and safety Kurtis Drummond, along with a bevy of younger guys looking to prove themselves, are all ready to put those worries to rest this coming season.
Dan Tyler is the host of the Spartan Red Zone for Impact Sports.
Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports