Michigan State running back Javon Ringer sat just a table-length away from his new coach Mark Dantonio at Big Ten Media Day in August, and even in the noisy room, it wouldn’t have been hard for Dantonio to hear Ringer’s plea.
Repeatedly, Ringer would tell reporters he never had the chance in his two seasons as a Spartan to showcase the kind of back he could be – the dominant version.
Under former coach John L. Smith, Ringer never got the number of carries as some of the other top backs in the Big Ten like Michigan’s Mike Hart and Wisconsin’s P.J. Hill, and he got tired of being left out of the conversation of elite running backs in the conference.
“After a while, it’s kind of frustrating,” Ringer said. “You hear all these other running backs getting talked about how great they are and how they can carry the workload, and I feel like I’m just as good – if not better – than a lot of them. It’s just that I haven’t been able to show it.”
Ringer, never one to shy away from sharing his opinion or his confidence, got just 86 carries last season to the tune of 497 yards. His season was also shortened when he tore his MCL. The tear sidelined him for four games, including a loss to the Wolverines in the Big House.
The junior from Dayton, Ohio, watched last year’s game from his home in East Lansing. This season, he understands how important Saturday’s matchup is in cementing his position as an elite Big Ten back and Michigan State’s spot as an elite program.
“Number one, we don’t want to lose at home,” Ringer said in August. “Two, it’s Michigan. That’s a big game for us. Honestly, in my own opinion, I’m not sure if they take that game as being a real competition, seeing as how they’ve beaten us the last couple of years.”
So far this season, Ringer has been drawing the attention he longed for back in August. Under Dantonio’s more traditional offense, Ringer has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on 173 carries – and Michigan coach Lloyd Carr has noticed.
“He’s a legitimate guy,” Carr said. “He’s had a great career, he’s having a great year and he’s established himself without a question as one of the best backs in the country.”
With 1,084 yards in nine games, Ringer has become the first Michigan State running back to gain more than 1,000 rushing yards in a season since T.J. Duckett collected 1,420 yards on the ground in 2001 – the last time the Spartans beat Michigan.
Ringer, who placed himself in the three-player top-tier of Big Ten running backs, enjoys the personal recognition. But he’s gunning for Michigan State to prove more.
Dantonio used Michigan as a measuring stick when he first arrived in East Lansing, and Ringer has bought into the idea of building a tradition like the Spartans’ in-state rivals.
“People respect Michigan a lot more than they do us, seeing as the things that Michigan has accomplished throughout the years,” said Ringer, a high school teammate of Michigan nickel back Brandon Harrison. “If we could get up to that category and be compared to Michigan, that’s a big step.”
Back in August, Ringer believed the Spartans could be a bowl team this year, even though their recent track record spoke contrary to that opinion.
But since a 4-0 start, Michigan State has faltered, losing four of its last five contests. Ringer knows beating Michigan for the first time since he stepped on campus is the spark his team needs.
“The more we can compete with Michigan, I feel like the more respect we can earn, considering Michigan has been a powerhouse team for years,” Ringer said.
But as much as Ringer would like to talk about his abilities, his offensive line holds the key to his success. He even went as far as to use Hart and Hill as examples of what good offensive lines could accomplish.
“As good of a running back Mike Hart’s been, as good of a running back as P.J. Hill came in his freshman year doing, all that came from the offensive line,” Ringer said. “You have to give at least 80 percent of it to the offensive line.”
This Saturday, Ringer has his chance to put his play on the field behind his words. At least he won’t have to plead with Dantonio for that opportunity.
He’ll just have to deal with the Michigan defense.