With 2:24 to play and Michigan State leading Ohio State 27-24 in the Big Ten Championship game, the Spartans had the ball with the chance to put the nail in the coffin. On 2nd and 2 from the Buckeye 26 yard line, MSU sophomore quarterback Connor Cook turned and handed the ball off to junior running back Jeremy Langford.
Moments after receiving the hand off, Langford found a hole through the Buckeye defense, bounced off a few tacklers, and was gone.
During last year’s magical season, numerous players on the Spartan football team were part of their own moments which will forever stand out from the rest.
This one was Langford’s.
With a huge smile spreading across his face, Langford ran into the end zone for the touchdown, solidifying victory for the Spartans, as well their first Rose Bowl appearance in over 25 years, which they eventually went on to win over the Stanford Cardinal, 24-20.
As Langford was mobbed by teammates after his score against Ohio State, it was hard to believe that just four months prior, Langford’s fiercest competition for the starting role in the backfield – was a linebacker.
Flash forward to today, now with a 1,422 yard, 18 touchdown and Rose Bowl championship year under his belt, Langford is preparing for his senior season, and it’s even harder to imagine, that just three years ago Langford was lining up on the defensive side of the ball.
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Langford came to Michigan State in the fall of 2010 out of Westland John Glenn High School, where he rushed for 1,932 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior. However, despite his gaudy high school stats, the 6 foot, 185 pound Langford was more-or-less an unheralded recruit and signed with the Spartans in January of his senior year.
After redshirting the 2010 season, Langford returned in 2011 for preseason camp ready to make an impact, only to be told by head coach Mark Dantonio that he would be making the switch from running back to corner back.
Looking back on it, Langford acknowledges that the transition was uncomfortable. However, Langford stayed persistent throughout the beginning of his career at MSU, and helped his team in any way possible, recovering two fumbles as part of special teams and defense, even returning one of those fumbles back for a 37 yard touchdown against Florida Atlantic during his redshirt freshman season.
“I wouldn’t change anything about it,” Langford said about switching positions earlier in his career. “I think that made me the person I am at running back today. I’m glad I played the defense, I’m glad I played special teams. That’s what we do at Michigan State. No one ever goes from not playing anything to just being a starter.”
“Now that I got older, I realize (Dantonio) was trying to get me on the field, because we had Le’Veon and Edwin and Larry at running back. He was trying to give me the chance and the opportunity. At the time I wasn’t too happy about it but it took me until I got older to realize that (Dantonio) was trying to help me out.”
And after two years of playing sporadically on both special teams and defense, after the departure of star running back Le’Veon Bell following the 2012 season, Langford would make the transition back to the running back position, where he would compete for the 2013 starting job against both Riley Bullough and Nick Hill.
As the season got going, Langford soon vaulted himself ahead of his fellow running back teammates, and soon began to emerge as one of the lone bright spots in a struggling Spartan offense.
“Going into (last) season, I’m not sure anyone, myself included, had an idea he’d come on like he did,” MSU co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Dave Warner said. “The credit goes to him for having that desire and that focus to stay with it and coming out on top at the end.”
And as Langford continued to mount 100 yard game after 100 yard game, he soon served as a catalyst for other parts of the offense, which included helping with the development of teammate and quarterback Connor Cook.
“Anytime a quarterback has a great running back, that takes pressure off the quarterback,” Cook said. “You have a good run game, that opens up the play action pass, it opens up the passing game. I was so fortunate and so grateful to work with a guy like him and to have him in the backfield with me.”
Still, even after all of last seasons accomplishments, and even after this year’s preseason accolades, a common theme around Dantonio’s program these days seems to be being able to handle success, and wanting to accomplish more, even when you reach the top of the mountain.
And when listening to Langford talk, it’s clear he echoes his coach’s sentiments.
“I’m always motivated because you never get to where you want to be,” Langford said. “You’re never perfect.”
“I was never the most recruited person coming out of high school, I was never the most popular running back here. I just kept working and stayed humble. That’s the most important part: stay humble and stay hungry.”
And when Langford is prompted by a question about his relationship with Dantonio, it’s almost as if he is at a loss for words at first.
“The bond we have is different, it’s difficult to really imagine,” Langford said, recounting some of the talks he’s had with his coach over the years, both good and bad. “He never gave up on me. He gave me a chance.”
In an age where so many players transfer when they’re not playing in the role they desire, there’s something to be respected that Langford stuck around and stayed true to the Michigan State program through it all. And while some may look back at Langford’s career and marvel at how far he’s come, one thing you can be sure of: Langford isn’t doing the same.
In the midst of a preseason which is arguably drawing the most hype in the history of the Michigan State program, Langford is just focused on getting better.
Humble and hungry.
That’s the Jeremy Langford way.