Each year the Big Ten honors their most elite student-athletes as a tribute to their many successes both scholastically and athletically.
This award was first given in 1915 to one male student-athlete at each of the Big Ten Universities who “attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work.”
It was not until 1982 that award was expanded, enabling female student-athletes to obtain recognition for their achievements as well.
The Big Ten Medal of Honor is the conference’s most prestigious award and is given to one male and one female athlete at each of the 12 Universities in the conference.
The Big Ten Conference has more than 8,000 student-athletes annually, and only 24 of the top males and females are awarded with this honor.
Over the past 99 years approximately 1,300 student-athletes across the Big Ten Conference have been recognized for their outstanding work both athletically and academically.
Out of the 1,300 student-athlete recipients, 19 of them have been members of the Michigan State Football team.
These 19 men have demonstrated the most elite performance on the football field and in the classroom.
These men have played positions ranging all across the field, and majors ranging all across the University.
First, lets take a look at the 6 defensive players that have received this award.
While playing defensive back at Michigan State, John Wilson also took on English and Literature in the classroom. Wilson was a member of both the 1951 and 1952 undefeated Michigan State Football teams, making them National Champions both years. Wilson was the first MSU Potsy Ross award recipient, recognizing him for his outstanding contribution to the University both academically and athletically. In 1952 he was named first-team All-American. He was also a member of the Academic All-American football team. Wilson had many ties to Michigan State both athletically and academically making him a perfect recipient of this award in 1953. After college, in 1968 Wilson served as Vice President of academic affairs at Michigan State, later moving to Program Director of the Honors College. Wilson was entered into the MSU Hall of Fame in 2001 for his achievements.
Carl Nystrom, also known as “Buck” and No. 68 on the field, was a two-way man that played both offense and defense for Michigan State. Not only was he a member of the Michigan State Football team, but he also earned a letter on the Michigan State Hockey team. Buck was known for his memorable performances like when he played all 60 minutes against the fighting Irish, leading the Spartans to a 21-7 victory over the No. 4 ranked team. Buck was the first Spartan to win first-team All-American and Academic All-American honors. Buck also helped the Spartans win two National titles at the Rose Bowl in both 1954 and 1956, as the teams MVP. During his senior year in 1955, he was nominated team captain. He went on to coach at numerous Universities including Northern Michigan University, and his own, Michigan State University.
Brenner was known for his diversity in playing both sides of the ball. Starting on a Big Ten Championship team as a sophomore, Brenner was a standout. He was recognized with honorable mention All-Big Ten in 1967, first-team All-American, unanimous first-team All-Big Ten in 1968, three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection from 1966 to 1968, and a two-time Academic All-American. Brenner’s commitment in the classroom helped him graduate top of his class with 3.7 GPA, and a degree in political science. He then went on to play two seasons with the New York Giants, and seven seasons in the Canadian Football League thereafter.
Richard played as linebacker with his twin brother, Ron, at Michigan State. Ron and Rich received many of the same awards including All- Big Ten, and Academic All-American, yet the Conference Medal of Honor separated the two. Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty, said that Rich was the best sophomore he ever had, and his only starting sophomore as well. After his successful collegeiate academic and athletic career, Rich went on to play a 12-year career with the L.A. Rams from 1970 to 1981.
1978 Larry Bethea
Bethea started as tight end his freshmen year, and moved to defense his sophomore year after discovering his natural talent as a lineman. Bethea was awarded first-team All-Big Ten from 1975 to 1977, and the first defensive player since Dave Butkis named Big Ten Conference MVP in 1977. He also set the highest single-season record with 16 sacks at MSU in 1977. After his collegiate career at MSU, Bethea was a first round draft pick for the Dallas Cowboys in 1978. He went on to play six seasons with the Cowboys.
1994 Steve Wasylk
Wasylk is arguably one of the most intelligent MSU athletes of all time. Wasylk had the teams highest GPA with a 3.95 in civil engineering, putting him on the National Ballot for Academic All-American. He was also named as the NFF National Scholar-Athlete in 1993. Wasylk broke the season record with 114 tackles in 1992, and completed with 206 tackles in his career. Wasylk was a perfect recipient of the Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor award in 1994, due to his successes at Michigan State.
If you missed the first article in the series, check it out!
MSU record holders: Part 1