NCF Nation: Deon Curry
If you need a cavity filled in the state of Michigan a few years from now, don't be surprised to see Blair White pulling up next to the dentist's chair.
|Cliff Welch/Icon SMI|
|Blair White ranks fourth in the Big Ten in receiving yards with 90.7 yards a game.|
And rest assured, White has very steady hands. Anyone can see that from watching him catch passes for Michigan State.
The former walk-on emerged midway through the 2008 season and wound up leading the Spartans in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (659). It could have been the end of the line for White, who was admitted to the University of Detroit's School of Dentistry and had a chance to enroll this fall.
But he had one season of eligibility remaining and decided what the heck, might as well stick around. Michigan State is extremely grateful, as White once again has become the team's No. 1 wide receiver.
He ranks fourth in the Big Ten in receiving yards (90.7 ypg), fifth in receptions (6.43 ypg) and third in scoring (5.1 ppg).
"It's a little different than what I had planned," White said. "It's a blessing and I'm very fortunate."
White entered last season not knowing if he'd see the field much, if at all.
He had only three catches his first two seasons and played primarily on special teams. Michigan State seemed fairly set at wide receiver with Mark Dell, Deon Curry, B.J. Cunningham and heralded freshmen Keshawn Martin and Fred Smith. About the only clue White would play a bigger role was his appearance as a co-backup with Chris L. Rucker on the preseason depth chart.
But injuries and other personnel moves -- Rucker eventually moved full-time to cornerback -- opened the door for White.
"I was able to catch some balls for us," he said. "I figured I could go to dental school any time I want, but I can only play football at Michigan State for one more year. I took advantage of that, and I'd like to think that was a wise choice, not passing that up."
White not only has become one of the Big Ten's better receivers, earning co-Offensive Player of the Week honors after recording career highs in both receptions (12) and receiving yards (186) to go along with two touchdowns in last Saturday's win against Northwestern. But he's doing it at a school that means a lot to his family.
White is the 15th person in his family to attend Michigan State. The group includes his three younger siblings, his mother, Vicki, an All-American swimmer for the Spartans, and a cousin, Jessica LeFevre, an All-American softball player.
His strong ties to Michigan State could present a problem in the future. See, White has applied to the School of Dentistry at Michigan and might end up in Ann Arbor a year from now.
White gets chided about attending Michigan "all the time," particularly from former Spartans teammate Brian Hoyer and Spartans running backs coach Dan Enos.
"It's definitely still possible," White said. "They're one of the best dental schools in the country, so I'm not just going to throw them off, even though I bleed green."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to take a closer look at five Big Ten teams.
1. Wisconsin -- Running back P.J. Hill is fully participating in practice after being limited by a leg injury last week, but he could take a backseat to redshirt freshman John Clay on Saturday at No. 21 Michigan State (ESPN, noon ET). Head coach Bret Bielema said Hill, Clay and Zach Brown will compete for carries throughout the week, with all three players likely being used in some form against the Spartans. But Clay started last week against Illinois and remains No. 1 on the depth chart. The Badgers also should get some help along the offensive line, as tackle Gabe Carimi and guard Kraig Urbik returned from knee injuries. A source told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the starting offensive line might be shuffled, with Urbik moving to right tackle and Eric Vanden Heuvel moving from right tackle to left tackle.
2. Illinois -- Head coach Ron Zook hinted at changes earlier this season, and he did it again after the Illini fell last Saturday at Wisconsin. Zook was still peeved after Monday's practice, telling reporters, "You got any ideas? Everybody seems to have ideas. I'll take them all. Here's the deal. We'll be ready to go. Yeah, I'm a little bit feisty right now. I don't have an answer for you. I wish I had an answer. I'd give it to you." This week's depth chart doesn't reflect many changes, but Illinois is looking for more help at outside linebacker to flank Brit Miller. Expect the rotation to increase at both linebacker and safety on Saturday against Iowa (ABC, 2:30 p.m. ET).
3. Northwestern -- The Wildcats could feature a new starting offensive backfield and a different approach on offense Saturday at No. 17 Minnesota (ESPN2, noon ET). Junior quarterback Mike Kafka, who could start in place of injured starter C.J. Bacher, is more of a rushing threat who ran the option when he started four games as a true freshman. Though Bacher injured his leg on a 10-yard run against Indiana, Northwestern won't hesitate to have its quarterback on the move against the Gophers. "Every spread offense in the country I'm watching runs the quarterback," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "It's an element of the offense and it's an inherent risk. That's why you recruit and get your other guys ready in case something ever does happen." Northwestern has been plagued by turnovers this season, so the game plan might be more conservative for Kafka, emphasizing the option and his strengths.
4. Purdue -- Quarterbacks Curtis Painter and Justin Siller have different styles and strengths, but coach Joe Tiller expects to have a similar package on offense no matter who starts Saturday against Michigan. Painter sustained a mild separation of his throwing shoulder last Saturday and could miss the game. Siller has been alternating between running back and quarterback this season, and he would give the Boilers more of a rushing threat. "There are differences in the sense that, you know, Justin is not the prototype drop-back guy, though he can throw the drop-back routes and he has," Tiller said. "This week we'll be closer to having a similar package for the two of them because [Siller will] have another week back into the offense."
5. Michigan State -- As opposing defenses focus on stopping running back Javon Ringer, the Spartans are extending their passing attack and their depth at the wide receiver position. Sophomore Blair White ignited for 138 receiving yards and a touchdown last Saturday against Michigan, and true freshman Keshawn Martin is gradually claiming a greater role. With Deon Curry limited by a back injury, Michigan State has looked to other wideouts to step up. "We have more depth this year than we had last year," head coach Mark Dantonio said. "We really have six, eight guys, that are functional."
|New Detriot Pistons head coach Michael Curry, left, has passed on his coaching genes to his son, Deon, right, a senior wide receiver for Michigan State.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State wide receiver Deon Curry was being called "coach" before his father got put in charge of the Detroit Pistons.
Curry, the most experienced member of the Spartans receiving corps, is among the offense's most vocal leaders. At practice he fields questions and reviews routes with younger players.
"It must run in the family," quarterback Brian Hoyer said. "Obviously he's a senior, so it kind of comes with the role. But he's very vocal. He helps those guys out. Us calling him 'coach Curry' is really a testament to what he does."
Curry acknowledged he probably got his teaching talents from his father, Michael, who was named Pistons head coach June 9. But the desire to help others has always been there.
"I've always been a verbal guy," said Curry, who had 24 receptions last season. "If anybody's having any problems or anything, I like to go out and help them out so we can all be successful at the same time."
Curry expects his dad to attend every game until the Pistons open training camp. Currently, no Pistons are scheduled to visit the Spartans football team, but Deon Curry said a special guest or two is possible down the line.
Several players have expressed interest in attending games, though Curry hasn't been able to convert them into Michigan State fans.
"I know Rasheed (Wallace) said he wanted to come out to the Notre Dame game," Curry said. "So we'll see. I've been around them for a long time, and they just want to come out and see a game before my career is done."
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Brian Hoyer returns to lead the Michigan State offense.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State media day is under way, so check back for updates later in the morning and this afternoon. For now, here's a look at three major questions facing the Spartans entering what should be a defining 2008 season.
1. Can Brian Hoyer take the next step in his evolution and silence his critics?
Hoyer did a lot of good things last season, but quarterbacks are ultimately judged in the fourth quarter and Michigan State went 2-6 in games decided by seven points or fewer. His play in crunch time will go a long way in determining if the Spartans back up their preseason label as the Big Ten's surprise team. Hoyer can be extremely efficient, as he proved with just seven regular-season interceptions last fall, but the nightmare of his four-interception meltdown in the Champs Sports Bowl lingers with Spartans fans. As a senior, Hoyer should limit his mistakes, and if several capable wide receivers emerge, he'll have a big season.
2. How will Michigan State replace Devin Thomas' playmaking ability?
Thomas' rapid rise as a wide receiver/return man probably can't be duplicated by one player, but the Spartans feel confident in their mostly unproven receiving corps. Both Deon Curry and Mark Dell appeared in all 13 games last season, combining for 44 catches, and redshirt freshman B.J. Cunningham could be the team's top big-play threat. The two Chris Ruckers -- Chris D. and Chris L. -- provide depth and heralded freshman Fred Smith could contribute immediately.
3. Who will anchor the pass rush after the losses of Jonal Saint-Dic and Ervin Baldwin, both of whom ranked among the Big Ten's top seven in sacks?
Expectations are high for end Trevor Anderson, a transfer from Cincinnati and a proven commodity. Anderson recorded 10 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in two seasons playing for Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati. He might be a bit rusty after a year off but should provide a big boost on the edge. The Spartans also need increased production from seniors Justin Kershaw and Brandon Long, who combined for 3.5 sacks last season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Despite losing seven of the league's top 10 receivers from last season, this group should once again be solid in 2008. Teams like Ohio State, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern return groups of receivers that have played together for a season or longer. Minnesota has a budding star in Eric Decker, while Wisconsin lacks a proven wide receiver but boasts arguably the nation's best tight end in Travis Beckum. Purdue is restocking at wide receiver but has history on its side, and Iowa welcomes back several key contributors from injuries.
As with the running backs, these rankings are broken down into two sections:
|AP Photo/Phelan Ebenhack|
|Wisconsin's Travis Beckum had 75 receptions for 982 yards last season.|
1. Travis Beckum, Sr., TE, Wisconsin -- It's rare that a tight end tops this list, but Beckum transcends his often overlooked position. The All-America candidate had 75 receptions for 982 yards and six touchdowns last season. If Beckum returns at top form following offseason shoulder surgery, he'll continue to flummox defenses with his size and speed.
2. Brian Robiskie, Sr., WR, Ohio State -- He averaged 17 yards a catch and had the third most touchdown catches (11) in the league last season. Now imagine what Robiskie will do without a torn meniscus in his knee that required offseason surgery. A deep threat on a squad with several of them, Robiskie is on the brink of a big season.
3. Arrelious Benn, So., WR, Illinois -- Fully healthy after shoulder surgery, Benn could easily become this season's Devin Thomas and rise to the top of the list. Illinois will get the ball in his hands as much as possible, whether it's in a ramped up passing attack, out of the backfield or on returns. A good route-runner with breakaway speed, Benn might be the league's most dynamic player.
4. Eric Decker, Jr., WR, Minnesota -- After putting up big numbers for a bad team last season, Decker should get more praise from fans and more attention from defenses this fall. A tremendous athlete who also plays baseball for the Golden Gophers, Decker gives quarterback Adam Weber a proven target who can get to the end zone (nine touchdowns in 2007).
5. Deon Butler, Sr., WR, Penn State -- Butler quietly has become one of the league's most reliable receivers. He needs just 36 receptions to become Penn State's all-time career receptions leader and likely will claim several other school records. As the Nittany Lions transition to more of a spread offense this fall, Butler should excel.
6. Eric Peterman, Sr., WR, Northwestern -- Just when defenses label Peterman as a standard possession wide receiver, he'll gash them for a big gain. He tied for seventh in the league in receptions last season and will once again be C.J. Bacher's top target in the passing game, particularly on third down.
7. Greg Orton, Sr., WR, Purdue -- After playing behind three-time Big Ten receptions leader Dorien Bryant, Orton takes center stage as a senior. He must stabilize a new-look Boilermakers receiving corps and provide senior quarterback Curtis Painter a reliable first option. Orton has 125 receptions the last two seasons.
8. Andy Brodell, Sr., WR, Iowa --Remember the 2006 Alamo Bowl? Brodell torched Texas for a bowl-record 159 receiving yards, including a 63-yard touchdown. A broken leg cut short his 2007 season, but he's back and ready to restore his place among the Big Ten's top receivers.
9. Brian Hartline, Jr., WR, Ohio State -- Don't forget about Ohio State's other Brian, who collected 52 receptions for 694 yards and six touchdowns last fall. As Robiskie stretches the field, Hartline provides an excellent complement who goes over the middle and absorbs contact. He turned in an excellent spring as Robiskie recovered from injury.
10. Derrick Williams, Sr., WR, Penn State -- Most thought Williams would be higher on this list when he arrived in Happy Valley, but he hasn't matched the hype -- yet. His speed and athleticism remain top notch, and he should do well in a spread offense. A big-play threat who can do damage in the return game, Williams could finish his career with a flourish.
1. Ohio State -- Finding a third option remains on Ohio State's to-do list, but few teams boast a better passing tandem than the Brians. After a season to jell with quarterback Todd Boeckman, Robiskie and Hartline will punish defenses worrying about Heisman Trophy candidate Beanie Wells.
2. Penn State -- In terms of continuity at wide receiver, Penn State ranks at the top of the list. But the long-tenured group of Butler, Williams and Jordan Norwood hasn't always met expectations. As seniors, they should shine despite having to work with a new starting quarterback.
3. Illinois -- The league knows all about Benn, who will do even more damage at 100 percent this fall. His supporting cast includes Jeff Cumberland, a 6-5, 247-pound former tight end who can outjump defenders, as well as Chris James, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. The Illini will accentuate the passing game more this fall, and this group should step up.
4. Northwestern -- This could be the Wildcats' best group of wideouts sinc
e they installed in the spread offense in 2000. Peterman is good for 6-10 receptions per game. Ross Lane provides Bacher with a red-zone threat, and Andrew Brewer, considered the team's top wideout before suffering a fractured humerus in training camp, rejoins the group.
5. Iowa -- Embattled quarterback Jake Christensen is thrilled to see what's coming back this fall. Brodell returns from a broken leg and gives Iowa a viable deep threat. Promising tight end Tony Moeaki is also back in the fold following an injury. Sophomore Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, the team's top receiver last season, provides depth along with Trey Stross.
6. Wisconsin -- Beckum and understudy Garrett Graham are the only reasons why the Badgers are this high. For them to stay there, several wide receivers must emerge from an unproven group. Kyle Jefferson displayed promise as a freshman and David Gilreath showcased his speed as a returner, but there are more questions than answers here.
7. Purdue -- It's impossible to replace Bryant's production or the mismatch problems Dustin Keller created, but Orton gives Purdue a strong first option with good size. More important, the Boilermakers have a track record of success at wide receiver and a senior quarterback (Curtis Painter) who can help unproven players. Junior-college transfer Aaron Valentin bolsters a group that also includes Desmond Tardy.
8. Minnesota -- I'm tempted to put the Gophers higher because of Decker, but there's not much behind him. Ernie Wheelwright's departure leaves a hole, which could be filled by dynamic freshman Brandon Green, sophomore Ralph Spry or several others. If Minnesota finds a solid second option for Weber, it will climb several spots.
9. Michigan -- Before you flood my inbox, allow an explanation. The Wolverines have no proven quarterbacks, only one semi-proven wide receiver (Greg Mathews) and a dramatically different offense to learn. A drop-off is likely, but not certain. Freshman Darryl Stonum bolsters the new-look corps, and players like Junior Hemingway and Toney Clemons could shine after waiting their turn for playing time.
10. Indiana -- There's no James Hardy on the roster, but juniors Ray Fisher and Andrew Means should stabilize a passing game led by quarterback Kellen Lewis. Tight end Max Dedmond provides another option in the new no-huddle offense, though another target or two needs to emerge.
11. Michigan State -- Javon Ringer told me to expect big things from this group, but I'm not convinced. Thomas and underrated tight end Kellen Davis will be missed, and Ringer had more receptions last season than any of the returnees. Deon Curry, Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham and Blair White have the chance to step up -- and move up the list.