EAST LANSING, Mich. – For many players on the Michigan State club football team, getting a second chance to play was surreal. Going out as a Spartan makes it like a dream.
Football was a fleeting high school memory of hot summer practices and cold home games, but now MSU’s seniors new memories to cherish..
“I have a jersey with Spartans on the front and my name on the back,” said wide receiver Danny Mogill. “It’s something I’d never thought I’d be able to say.”
These are some of the stories of the seniors who played MSU club football and why they will cherish their time playing the game.
The cheerful starting quarterback Vinny Costanzo began his football career in third grade, participating in the Alma Police Athletic League. But his love of the game began before he could even grasp a dark brown and white striped Wilson football.
Costanzo was awe-struck, watching his two older brothers play under the lights of high school football. He was a die-hard Detroit Lions and Notre Dame fan ever since he could remember, but he was not defined by his fandom.
“I loved the idea of playing football my whole life and the thought that was even a possibility for anyone was astonishing for me,” said Costanzo. “That was what I wanted to do.”
He transitioned from running back to quarterback during his freshman year at Alma High School. He filled in for Keegan Akin, who was drafted 54th overall by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2016 MLB draft. Costanzo followed up a promising freshman season by beating out Akin for the starting spot on the same junior varsity team. He would remain a starter for his whole career.
His dreams became the focus of his high school athletic career, so much so that he stopped playing a winter sport after freshman year so that he could focus his offseason on football. Costanzo also ran track all four years, but saw it as great way to stay in shape for the fall.
“My high school athletic experience was just trying to be the best football player I could,” said Costanzo.
Costanzo led the Alma to 9-3 season his junior year, and won a district championship. The team missed the playoffs his senior year, after blowing a 21-point half time lead against Lansing Catholic.
After passing for 2,774 yards and 36 touchdowns, and rushing for 969 yards and 11 touchdowns in two seasons as a varsity starter, Costanzo was recruited by Alma College, Albion College and Saginaw Valley State to continue his football career.
He went in a different direction, choosing Northwood University for their sports management program and a shot at trying out for their football team.
He made it as a slot receiver for the practice squad.
“It was grueling with the morning workouts and the hour long meetings before three hour long practices,” said Costanzo. “It was a lot of time and I didn’t get to really play, so I felt like I was done.”
He eventually decided to transfer to Lansing Community College and was content to retire from football.
That was until after he transferred to Michigan State, and found out from a friend that there would be a club football team that fall. Initially, Costanzo was transferring to earn a teaching degree with the hopes of coaching someday, but knew he could not pass up the opportunity.
“I missed [football] and it was the perfect opportunity,” said Costanzo. “It wasn’t a huge time commitment, it was tackle football and it’s astonishing how it all worked out.”
Costanzo was the Spartans starting quarterback for the team’s first two seasons, finishing with an overall record of 9-3.
It was tough to find a moment when Costanzo was not smiling or ready to make a joke, especially during practice. Though at game time, the fun-loving quarterback became one of its most focused individuals. For Costanzo, retiring from football is like saying goodbye to his true love, but he is hopeful that transition to coaching will ease the loss.
“It’s a weird feeling since football is all I really know,” said Costanzo. “I’ve given it my all, but I really want to start coaching.”
No matter what happens next, Costanzo will be able to look back at his time with the club football team fondly. He cherishes the close friendships and memories of the last few victories, as he looks upon his MSU jersey hanging on the wall, right above his helmets.
“Maybe I’ll even tell people I played for the varsity team,” Costanzo said.
Wide receiver Mogill considered himself a basketball player until his junior year of high school. That was when he became a back-up and became one of the few junior starters on the varsity football team.
After two years of middle school football, Mogill was ready to quit as he went into high school. His father, David, was friends with the junior varsity coach and encouraged his son to at least attend the team meeting.
“I didn’t enjoy it all,” Mogill said. “If it wasn’t for my dad pushing to go to that meeting, I wouldn’t be playing.”
He loved football and was named the team offensive MVP, team MVP and was one of the top receivers in Oakland County in his senior year.
Mogill, recruited by Kalamazoo and Kenyon, chose the academics at Michigan State over football at a smaller school.
“I thought I was done,” said Mogill. “I picked MSU thinking my career would be over. I had the opportunity to get a chance to play, but I didn’t seek those heavily.”
As a freshman, Mogill attended Sparticipation and saw other club teams such as hockey and skiing, but could not find one for football. He spent the next two years playing intramural football with distant hope that there would be a chance for him to put on pads again.
When he received an e-mail about a potential club team, he had to get back to the field.
“Not a lot of people can say they played at a college level,” said Mogill. “I missed the field so much that I had to get back.”
Although he is a senior, Mogill will be back in the Spartan uniform next fall as he plans to return to East Lansing for a fifth year to finish his education degree.
“It was hard to say goodbye the first time and it’s hard to say goodbye again,” Mogill said. “I want to prolong it for as long as possible.”
For Mogill, saying goodbye to his friends, now turned brothers, will be the most difficult part moving forward.
“As much as I love playing football, I have to hang up the cleats at some point,” Mogill said. “I see my team as my family and it’s going to be hard saying goodbye to family.”
Sterling’s football career began in first grade when he played for Huron River Yellow Jackets, a youth football development team. Sterling resumed his career in middle school at the same time he started to run Track and Field.
As soon as he won his first football game, Sterling knew football would be his passion.
“I really liked the feeling of winning,” said Sterling. “I just wanted to keep playing and enjoy the sport.”
Sterling was as a tremendous high school athlete. He played quarterback, free safety and kicker for the Monroe Jefferson Bears on top of eight years of running track.
Sterling quit football when he was recruited to walk-on to the Michigan State’s Track and Field team .
When he read an e-mail about a potential club football team, he decided he wanted to return to the field one more time. He dropped from a varsity Michigan State team to join a start-up club.
“Strapping on the pads again was one of the best feelings I had,” Sterling said. “We just wanted to go out there and hit.”
Sterling decided to play wide receiver at MSU because it allowed him to play on kicks, punts, and defense while also leading the team in receiving.
“Playing a different position was probably the best part,” said Sterling. “I never got to play [wide receiver] in high school and I always thought I was better at it.”
Quarterback Vinny Costanzo completing passes to wide receiver Jake Sterling, wide receiver Danny Mogill and running in two-point conversion.
Sterling made the play that would define the leadership of the senior class. With the team pinned deep in their zone and a sizeable first down ahead, head coach and defensive coordinator, Chris Pickney, decided to run the first fake punt all year in the 9-7 victory over University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. It was a gusty call to say the least, even special teams coordinator John Dennis had second thoughts.
Pickney pulled Sterling aside.
“We’re running a fake,” he told Sterling.
“Coach, it’s fourth-and-5,. We’re pinned deep,” Sterling responded.
“You can’t get me five yards?”
Sterling had no words. He strapped on his helmet, as he went back on the field, and gained 16 yards.
“It was good to see him take that challenge, no words needed and do what he needed to do on the field,” said Pickney. “He came off after that play and I looked at him and smiled.”
Sterling will graduate on Dec. 17 and is planning on becoming an agent for Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan He said that his second chance at football makes it easier to say goodbye for the final time.
“I think it’ll be easier than what it was before,” said Sterling. “People always wish they could play after high school and I got my chance to come back.”
Sterling is not quite ready to entirely give up football. He has signed up for a flag football league and has a few coaching opportunities to look into.
“The feeling of being able to wear a Spartan helmet, even though it was a different emblem, was just really cool,” Sterling said.