January 08, 2014 - Kyler Elsworth's mantra is simple—"Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."
It was some of that iconic work ethic that propelled Middle Linebacker Elsworth to center stage on New Year's Day when he stuffed Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt on a fourth-and-short and sealed a Rose Bowl victory for Michigan State (13-1) 24-20 over Stanford (11-3) with more than 95,000 in attendance at the Rose Bowl, in Pasadena, Calif.
Elsworth, a 6'1", 220-pound, 2009 Goodrich High School graduate and fifth-year senior for the Spartans, contacted The Citizen on Jan. 3 after the team returned from the West Coast.
Following the suspension of All-American senior MSU linebacker Max Bullough last week, Elsworth was called upon to start the game against No. 5 Stanford. His first career start for the Green and White would be to lead the best defense in the country into the Rose Bowl.
"When I found out I, along with (sophomore linebacker Darien) Harris, were going to start in place of Max (Bullough) my study of the playbook increased ten-fold," said Elsworth. "Still, even before that, I went into every practice during the season like I was going to be a starter. It's simple— if I don't prepare every day I'm letting the team down. When we arrived at the Rose Bowl, I'd attend team functions, then come back and watch more team films. I put the pressure and hype of the Rose Bowl out of my mind and focused on communicating with the team on the field. It's about 11 guys on the defense doing one job and it's up to me to assure we are all on the same page."
Elsworth had played in big games for the Spartans before the Rose Bowl, including regular season games at the University of Michigan and Ohio State where crowds were excessively rowdy. Still, pressure is not new for Elsworth.
"As a Goodrich Martian I competed in the state championship wrestling—on the mat with all eyes on you," he recalled. "You just try not to think about the press and cameras on you. Rather, focus on the game and the task at hand. In reality, it did not hit me what just happened until after the Rose Bowl game."
"It's so loud at the Rose Bowl—especially on fourth down or third and short yardage," he said. "It's difficult to call the plays out to the rest of the defense. There's a big void without Bullough, but the team rallied and we all got it down. It was old school football. The Stanford football team was very classy and well coached.There were no altercations—both teams had the drive to win."
"I might not have been the most talented player out there," he said. "It's easy to give up when it gets hard at practice or school or any challenge you have.But I take full advantage of my opportunities—you just have got to see it through to the end. When I made a commitment for five years as a Spartan, I bought into the whole program, I could never leave or quit because of my teammates."
Elsworth said coach Dantonio has players set goals.
"I have five goals," said Elsworth. "My first goal was to get on the field as a Spartan. I did that in 2010 when we played Western Michigan (University) and I started on special teams. I was on cloud nine then—we kicked off and I ran down the field and made the tackle. The number two goal was to make everyone at home proud of me; third, prove to others I can succeed as a Spartan; fourth, earn a football scholarship; and finally, be a part of the team. I've accomplished all of this."
So far, Elsworth has not received any interest from professional football teams. In March, representatives from 30 NFL teams will gather at Michigan State for pro day to take a look at the Spartan talent.
"I will participate (in pro day)," he said. "But so far, no agent has contacted me. I have spoken with last year Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins, who currently plays for the Washington Redskins. I'll take advantage of the pro day— don't count me out, I'll give it 110 percent and do my best. Maybe I'll get a tryout or make the practice team."
Goodrich Football Coach Tom Alward had Elsworth on the Martians team from 2006-2008.
"He was an outstanding football player," said Alward, who was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame in 2012 after 21 seasons with the Martians. "Kyler was a very aggressive, tough young man—and he proved himself at Michigan State. He was a leader and popular. Moreover, despite all his athletic abilities, he was a great human being. While Kyler was a great wrestler, I'm not surprised he made it also in football—the two sports go hand in hand."
Alward said Elsworth played both offense and defense for the Martians.
"Honestly, he never left the field," he said. "We were more concerned with how much rest we'd give him during the game. Kyler's biggest strength was his character—he was a very determined young man who took no shortcuts. If he set his mind out to do something, I'd not bet against him. He has true grit and the mental toughness for success."