There’s a New Sheriff in Town

Rain turns into sleet and then slowly changes back to rain. The damp, cold, late-November night engulfs everyone like a blanket. Yet it was football weather–Big Ten football weather.

With a victory over the host Ohio State Buckeyes, the Michigan State Spartans would put themselves in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten East crown with a trip to Indianapolis on the horizon.

The Buckeye fans howl in the dark night air. The atmosphere at the Horseshoe makes it almost impossible for any visiting team to come away with a win. However, backup quarterback Tyler O’Connor has the Spartans within striking distance of knocking off the Buckeyes.

Time and time again, O’Connor runs the option perfectly, picking up first downs in critical situations. The backup is poised and comfortable, enjoying the moment. Late in the fourth quarter, O’Connor leads Michigan State down the field to set up a walk-off game-winning field goal.

Fast forward nine months later from that chilly night in Columbus, Ohio. O’Connor has placed himself as the starting man under center for the Spartans, in addition to being named captain for the 2016 campaign.

“Putting official tags and titles on things obviously do mean something,” O’Connor said, “but in the end I have had the mentality of the starting quarterback and the mentality of being a leader or a captain on this team regardless. But at the same time, it is not going to change who I am, what I’ve done or how I am going to treat each and every day here.”

Entering his final year, O’Connor sees the responsibility of being named captain as well as the starting quarterback as a tremendous honor, one that he envisioned the moment since he was a freshman.

“It was a goal of mine since I stepped on campus,” O’Connor said. “Before I got here Kirk Cousins was a three-time captain. That was originally my goal.”

“I have always felt like a leader. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but I finally get my chance to step up–and to have the respect and votes of the other guys really meant a lot.”

“He is a great leader,” fifth-year senior offensive lineman Kodi Kieler said. “He is a guy we all want to follow behind.”

The evolution for a starting quarterback takes time as well as patience. O’Connor has been waiting for his moment and finds encouragement from a long list of tremendous gunslingers to come out of East Lansing.

“The coolest thing about this place is, and this is the God’s honest truth,” O’Connor said. “I received texts from Kirk (Cousins), Brian Hoyer, Connor (Cook) and (Andrew) Maxwell. Everybody cares so much and you just join a great group of guys and it means a lot just to be mentioned in the same group with them.”

“He leads the huddle,” senior wide receiver R.J. Shelton stated, “He does everything the right way.”

Last season, Connor Cook became the winningest quarterback in Spartan history and cemented himself as one of the best ever in Michigan State lore. Nevertheless, Cook had to follow all-time greats such as Kirk Cousins and Brian Hoyer before he took the reigns as the starting quarterback.

Now, O’Connor looks to do the same as he leads Michigan State on its journey in defending the Big Ten crown.

“I want the ball. Any big-time plays that need to be made, I want to make them,” O’Connor said. “I have the confidence in myself to do that and we have guys who are confident in themselves as well.”

Confidence is contagious. On the field or in the locker room, teammates turn to the fifth-year senior.

“He is a confident guy,” junior offensive lineman Brian Allen said. “He takes the same role as Connor (Cook) and (Kirk) Cousins in the huddle. The guys listen to him and they respect him.”

Michigan State begins its run for another College Football Playoff berth with their home opener Friday against Furman, and the former backup who now has the keys to the car is anxious for the moment.

“I am very excited,” O’Connor said. “It is something I have been waiting for a long time.”