August 28, 2013

For Langford it was about focus and faith

EAST LANSING - Jeremy Langford didn't find out he would be Michigan State's starting running back before the Spartans open the season this Friday against Western Michigan the conventional way.

Before his coach Mark Dantonio could render the happy news, Twitter notified Langford (6-0, 206), a former wide receiver and defensive back that he had earned the starting nod in a three-man race that included junior Nick Hill and redshirt freshman Riley Bullough.

No matter how he found out, it did nothing to diminish the pride and joy the junior expressed on Tuesday as the Spartans prepared for their 8 p.m. matchup against the Broncos.

"I was happy. I've been here for a while, it's been a long time coming but I worked hard and took it one day at a time. I was very excited.''

Despite flashing a smile that was hard to contain, Langford, who received congratulations from former Spartans Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper earlier on Tuesday, promised to heed the advice of his equally proud but maybe even more practical father, Jeffery, who preached consistency and just to enjoy the opportunity to play football at this level, a chance that not everyone gets everyday.

Langford's ascension to the No. 1 backfield spot, no matter how celebrated, hasn't come easy.

With stints on both offense and defense at other positions, and duties on all four of MSU's special teams, Langford, like most football players, was just doing what was necessary to get on the field and validate the athletic ability that had gotten him to this level.

Steps that he now understands were necessary in nailing down the No. 1 running back spot.

"I was more focused on playing running back but it helped a lot, playing receiver and playing corner, especially with experience'' said Langford, who has appeared in 23 games and accumulated 11 tackles. "It helped me know the whole offense and how defenses work.''

While his promotion could end his extended special teams duties, his attitude, through it all tells you something about his perseverance and why he may have had a mental edge in sealing the top running back.

On Tuesday, as he talked about a promotion that saw him go from No. 3 on the depth chart in the spring to the top spot entering Friday's opener, he admitted that he always felt that running back was going to be his best position of production as a Spartan.

That, in turn, caused him to change his approach and running style. Two areas of concentration that probably earned him the starting spot.

"It was mainly just the physical aspect, getting the four yards and not trying to hit a home run each play. It was also about focus and faith. Just knowing that you're not going to score a touchdown every play. It's not really possible so you've just got to get the four yards every play and when the defense is tired and they don't want to tackle as much then it will pop.''

"(Plus), I had to be more patient. When I first got here, it was like the game was faster than it is and it was controlling me. But as I got older, I got control of my pace and when I hit the hole, I hit it hard to gain those four yards. There was more clutter when I was a freshman and it felt like I just running but now I can see. My vision's better.''

With that being said, Langford - who registered 31 yards on 10 carries in this year's Spring Game, and collected another 28 yards on six carries in the second spring scrimmage, improved his stock in the two Jersey Scrimmages where he totaled 106 yards on 21 carries while scoring three TDs - isn't about to enjoy his new role as a final accomplishment.

Besides, he's got two capable backups sitting right behind him.

"It's going to be whoever has the hot hand. We've all got to work for it, do our best to help the team out to get us to where we need to be at.''

While surprising, Langford's meteoric rise to the No. 1 running back spot should not be a shock. Dantonio has long heralded his as one of the best athletes on the Spartans' roster as evidenced by MSU's attempts to get him on the field at cornerback and wide receiver.

"I heard it a lot,'' Langford said in response to Dantonio's edict about getting him on the field, "but it was mainly my fault that I wasn't on the field. I wasn't as consistent as I could've been, but this camp, I knew everyday that I had to be consistent. Now, it's paid off.''

Additionally, there was a history of success at running back during his prep career, one that saw him gain nearly 2,000 yards as a high school senior despite rushing the ball just 205 times. In that same season, he also scored 24 rushing touchdowns..

Now, it will just be a case of him re-establishing himself as an offensive weapon in the ground game. One that carries a lot of question marks after the departure of veterans like Bell and Caper.

"You're never at your peak until you're in the NFL. So I think there's always room to grow and I want to do that throughout the season.''

And while the depth of his growth remains to be seen, right now, Langford is the answer, especially if he can heed the advice of a former teammate in Bell, now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"(He told me) just do what I can do and don't do too much. There's a lot that comes with being a football player at Michigan State, so you've just got to stay humble and stay positive.''

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