EAST LANSING, Mich. - The Michigan State football team has been in the news this offseason for all the wrong reasons, and as the program dealt with sexual assault allegations against four players, the rest of the Spartans generally stayed out of the public eye.
That changed Tuesday when a handful of players were made available to the media - and had a chance to talk about what they can do to improve the program's image.
''We represent Michigan State,'' quarterback Damion Terry said. ''There's going to be eyes on us, no matter where we go.''
Michigan State dismissed three players from the team last week after criminal sexual-conduct charges were brought against them, and another player was dismissed after a separate criminal sexual conduct charge against him in April.
The team largely stayed quiet while investigations loomed over the program, and although the charged athletes are no longer on the team, there's no telling how much damage has been done to the Spartans' reputation.
Terry said community involvement has become a point of emphasis lately. Michigan State has been teaming up with Lansing Promise, a program aimed at helping young people in the area have access to education and career training following high school.
Terry and safety Khari Willis both talked a bit about visiting schools and interacting with kids.
''That goes a long way - just seeing all those kids and how much we can impact them,'' Terry said. ''We just want to keep being that light and spreading that light among the football program, during a horrible offseason.''
''I dunked on a couple kids,'' Willis joked. ''Nah, it was good. They've got a few programs with the Lansing Promise, and I feel like that's a real good avenue for me in the future as well.''
In addition to the criminal allegations currently in the court system, the Spartans are also clearly dealing with some internal issues that may have affected the team's performance last season, when Michigan State went 3-9 after winning the Big Ten the previous year. Running back Gerald Holmes was asked bluntly if leadership was lacking in 2016.
''Yes, it did. I think this year that will change,'' said Holmes, who will be a fifth-year senior. ''As bad as last year was, it definitely helps you now. It was still a lesson, at the end of the day.''
Holmes said he's helped start player-led meetings that he hopes can enable players to grow closer.
''It's still growing in how we're going to do things, but it kind of started off first, just bringing up guys who normally don't talk, just to share something,'' he said. ''Just kind of get guys to open up, and have guys that are sitting down watching, kind of feel that person. I feel like the main thing is that we don't communicate enough on the team.''
NOTES: Dantonio spoke before the players were made available, and he said DB Vayante Copeland is no longer part of the program. He was vague as to why. ''There are certain things you've got to be able to make as you process yourself through from junior to senior and things of that nature,'' Dantonio said. ''Vayante's done a great job here. He was not thrown off this football team. We wish him the best.'' ... The Spartans announced that they have promoted Sheldon White to be the football team's director of player personnel, and that offensive line coach Mark Staten has been promoted to assistant head coach and will serve as recruiting coordinator.
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