SAN DIEGO — The SDCCU Stadium field turned into a whirlwind of excitement following No. 16 Michigan State’s 42-17 win over No. 18 Washington State in the Holiday Bowl Thursday.
Michigan State players held up outstretched fingers to signify a 10th win. Holiday Bowl representatives presented coach Mark Dantonio with a cake commemorating his 100th win with the Spartans. Several fans tussled with security in the crowd.
And in one corner, away from the fanfare, Michigan State junior running back LJ Scott spoke to FOX Sports 1. In his usual soft-spoken manner, he issued a statement that sent more waves than the volume would suggest.
“I’ll be back in East Lansing playing another season with my dawgs,” he said, erasing all speculation that he would bolt for the NFL draft.
The declaration sent Michigan State fans into even more of a delirium. Scott’s teammates, though, weren’t taken aback. Wide receiver Felton Davis said he had known Scott’s intentions since the Minnesota game ― or so he thought. Who could blame him for not remembering for sure? That was all the way back on Oct. 14.
“I already knew he was coming back because Michigan State is a great place,” Davis said. “And people say that a lot about schools, but Michigan State is a great place and I knew he loved everybody that’s here. We have unfinished business, let alone his individual stats but team goals. We have a lot of unfinished business to take care of, so I knew he would come back.”
Scott, who figured to be selected in the middle rounds of the draft, saw his production dip in 2017. After a 994-yard season as a sophomore, he gained 788 yards on a career-low 4.3 yards per carry. He had three 100-yard games, including 110 yards and a pair of scores against Washington State in what would have been a worthy sendoff performance.
The opportunities for Scott’s senior year on the field undoubtedly played a part in the decision, but it may have been different numbers that drew him back. Dantonio said after the game that the sociology major has been doing impressive work in the classroom, which he’ll now continue.
“I think it’s important to note that LJ Scott had a 3.5 grade-point average this semester,” Dantonio said. “He’s on track to getting his degree, and leaving early would put that on hold a little longer.
“I think he could be a tremendous tailback, a guy that we can hand the ball to 250 times and do great things, much like when [defensive end] Shilique Calhoun and [quarterback] Connor Cook made the decision to come back. They followed with a Big Ten championship ring, and I think those things become possible. We have an established tailback coming back, and he’s a special player.”
Scott’s return also helps to ease young running backs into the rotation rather than throwing them into the deep end. Had he departed, the only returning running back with more than 3 carries would have been Madre London.
But Dantonio didn’t have to worry about that possibility. While Scott threw curveballs at the media, indicating that a decision would come after the season, he had told his coach about his plans long before.
“We talked,” Dantonio said. “We did have a talk, but that was be not for me to say, or for me to say to anybody else. So I kept it quiet and let him go forth.”
But those were just one-on-one conversations. NFL draft talk never dominated the locker room. Such decisions are personal. With the news coming through, it just added to the hype that will follow Michigan State into the offseason.
“We don’t really talk about that as a team or anything like that,” safety David Dowell said, “but obviously we’re glad that he’s coming back. We’re glad to have him back for that fourth year, his senior year.”