- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Ron and Erin Waynes named their first son Trae because he became the third member of their family. Now, Trae Waynes is looking to add his name to another lineage: the one involving Michigan State standout defensive backs.
With Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard and All-Big Ten safety Isaiah Lewis off to the NFL, Waynes will become a focal point in the Spartans' secondary. The junior will be taking over Dennard's role as the team's boundary cornerback and hoping to keep the "No-Fly Zone" in place.
"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."
Waynes has only one year of starting under his belt but has shown the potential to be a top-flight corner, including his acrobatic interception early in the second half of the Rose Bowl win over Stanford. Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has talked in the past about The Bus, which is what he calls the group of star defensive backs he has coached over the years. Dennard and Lewis earned coveted spots on that bus last season, and Waynes could be next in line.
"Yeah, I think maybe he is," Dantonio said. "He had a good year last year for us, and he's got two years left, hopefully. I think he has the ability to be a shutdown guy and a top player for us."
The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder has the size and the will to get physical with receivers and the speed to track them down. He has been clocked at around 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Credit that swiftness to genetics, as both his parents ran track in college, and his younger brother currently does so at Eastern Michigan. But Ron Waynes said he discouraged Trae from participating heavily in track in high school because "I never wanted people to think he was just a track guy playing football."
Waynes grew up in Kenosha, Wis., and won a lottery to attend Harborside Academy, a charter school. Since it didn't offer sports, he played football at Bradford High School, taking a bus to workouts and practices before he got his driver's license.
"I think that shows you the commitment level he had," said Jed Kennedy, his coach at Bradford. "I can probably count on one hand the number of workouts he missed in four years."
He was not a hotshot recruit for most of his prep career, in part because he played safety until his senior year -- "I should have moved him to corner earlier," Kennedy said. "That's on me." -- and because he missed parts of his last two seasons with a shoulder and then a leg injury. But Waynes went to a lot of camps between his junior and senior seasons and gained notice for his athleticism.
Michigan State got in with him early thanks to a relationship built by recruiting coordinator Brad Salem, and Waynes hit it off quickly with secondary coach Harlon Barnett.
"Having Coach Barnett and Coach Dantonio coaching me was a big part of [the decision]," he said. "I mean, if you're a defensive back, why wouldn't you want to come here?"
Going to Michigan State meant Waynes would not play in college with his high school teammate and best friend, current Wisconsin star running back Melvin Gordon. Gordon originally committed to Iowa before switching to the Badgers, and despite Bret Bielema's efforts, Wisconsin couldn't keep Waynes in his home state.
"It was just bad timing," Gordon told ESPN.com. "Michigan State was also his first offer, so you always got love for the people that show you first love. I think if I would have committed to Wisconsin and said, ‘Come on, Trae, let’s do this. Let’s pair up,’ he would have been here. But when he got on Michigan State’s campus, that’s when they got him. ... [But] everything is working out for both of us."
"You can say they're like brothers," Ron Waynes said. "But I think they both made phenomenal choices. Look at where Melvin is for a running back, and to be a defensive back, Trae's at a great school."
Waynes and Gordon still talk or text daily, trying to avoid football subjects but usually failing. Waynes said Gordon gave him grief during the NCAA basketball tournament when the Badgers made the Final Four and the Spartans fell just short. But when in doubt, Waynes said, "I always just throw the Rose Bowl win at him."
Talking trash isn't really Waynes' style. He's soft-spoken and describes himself as shy. But he's trying to force himself to become more of a vocal presence on this year's team and says he gained a lot of confidence after last season's performance. His coaches haven't had to worry much about him since he got his first major exposure in the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl win over TCU.
"The most impressive thing is how consistent that guy's been since the TCU game two years ago," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "He hasn't looked back and had a bad day since. He's got ball skills, and he's tough. What else do you want in a corner?"
Narduzzi said Waynes -- whose first two career interceptions came in the regular season finale against Minnesota -- could make a lot more plays this season as he moves over to Dennard's spot. That gives him the chance to join the elite company of former Michigan State and Dantonio-coached star defensive backs. No one needs to remind him of that lineage.
"It's just a known fact," Waynes said. "The previous guys set the bar really high, so I've got a lot to live up to."
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