EAST LANSING - On the eve of the first spring football practice two weeks ago, first-year offensive coordinator Dan Roushar said that he expected sophomore quarterback Andrew Maxwell to have a great spring.
Roushar's expectations have become a reality. Maxwell has not only solidified himself as a capable back-up behind third-year starter Kirk Cousins, but the former Midland (Mich.) High star has also begun to lay the groundwork for a smooth transition at quarterback after the 2011 season.
"He is ahead of where he was in the fall," said Spartan quarterbacks coach Dave Warner. "I don't know if it is once specific area. He is more confident, he knows the offense a little bit better than he did. Maybe he is just starting to feel like it is getting close to being his time and he needs to be a little bit more prepared. But we talked about it before spring practice, I told him 'this was going to be a big spring for you and you are going to have to make big improvements in your execution as a quarterback and also as a team leader.' I think he has taken that to heart and done a good job with it."
Maxwell is the lone scholarship quarterback at Michigan State behind Cousins following Joe Boisture's decision to retire from football during the off-season. Senior Keith Nichol is also available to take snaps at quarterback in an emergency.
Increased job security, however, has not changed Maxwell's approach this spring.
"Whether I am in a battle for the No. 2 spot or not, I am still taking the approach that I have to play my best football," explained the 6-foot-3, 208-pound red-shirt sophomore. "Just because I might not be in a battle and because I might have job security as the back-up, that doesn't mean that I can take a break or be complacent in my role. I just have to take the mindset every day that if I don't work my hardest or I am not trying to improve, I am not doing my team justice and I am not doing myself justice."
Maxwell is playing his best football.
"His accuracy is very good," said Warner. "He is just so calm and cool out there, it is like he has a lot of experience under his belt in game situations. He doesn't get rattled. He knows our offense very well. He has been throwing the ball and making good decisions. I think it is an overall thing that he has done very well. We certainly have had high expectations for him all along. I think now he is starting to take it to another level."
Maxwell is also trying to establish himself as a future leader on the football team.
"(Kirk) has built connections with everybody on the team and he can relate to every guy on the field and every guy in the locker room," explained Maxwell. "I feel like when you do that and you gain guys trust and you become a person that people know that they can count on, your leadership is going to take care of itself. If you are somebody that people know is going to fight for them and you are going to have their back, they are going to do the same for you. I have tried to do that and build connections and build bridges with everybody in the locker room. I am just trying to prove that I can be somebody that they can count on."
Maxwell has gotten better this spring because he is driven to do so.
"I am taking conscious steps to get out of my comfort zone," explained the Spartan back-up. "In areas where I was reserved in the past, I am going to try and take that step out and if I make a mistake I will go back re-evaluate, find out what went wrong and correct it and keep moving forward. I feel like if I can do that, if I can push myself to be a better player, I can push Kirk to be a better player. If he is playing better football, that gives our team a better chance to win. That is my mindset so far."
Maxwell made his college debut in the season-opener against Western Michigan last fall. He played in five games as a red-shirt freshman including a brief stint in the Capital One Bowl where he found himself on the wrong end of a punishing hit from Crimson Tide Marcell Dareus. That hit knocked Maxwell from the game. But the time he was on the field against one of the nation's top defenses as well as the snaps Maxwell took during his four other game appearances last fall have been a catalyst for growth as a quarterback.
"You can take all of the practice reps that you want, but when you have a red jersey on and you are not allowed to get hit, you don't really know how far you have come," Maxwell said. "Getting those game reps in the fall and getting live game action and getting a feel for how it all works, that was just an invaluable experience that I can take with me and learn from and apply this spring and going into the fall."
Maxwell's primary focus has been developing the leadership and game-management skills necessary to be a successful quarterback at Michigan State. But he has not forgotten about the mechanics of the quarterback position. Both Maxwell and Cousins spent spring break in California working on mechanics with quarterbacks guru Bob Johnson, and his two sons Brett and Rob.