Former MSU football player Kaleel Gaines opens up about his reason to transfer from Michigan State to play football at Arizona Western Junior College. He also addresses what went wrong last year, including the sexual assault charges of his former teammates.
The summer calendar now shows four days until Michigan State football players report for camp, with their focus on rebranding a new, younger team. They are hoping to overcome the distractions and disappointments that came with last season and the offseason.
It was the worst year in Coach Mark Dantonio’s 10 seasons at Michigan State and the program’s worst in almost 35 years. We know the story. The Spartans finished the season with a 3-9 record. There is no question that MSU will have plenty of work to do in order to turn the page on last season’s horrific chapter.
MSU has lost 12 players to dismissal, transfer or the NFL since last season. Malik McDowell and Montae Nicholson left to play in the NFL. Auston Robertson, Josh King, Demetric Vance, and Donnie Corley were all kicked off the team after being charged with sexual assault. Jon Reschke left after making an insensitive comment about a teammate and Thiyo Lukusa, simply, didn’t enjoy playing the game anymore. Kaleel Gaines, former MSU cornerback, has decided to speak out about his reasons for leaving and gives insight on playing football at Michigan State.
Gaines traveled from Frostproof, Florida to get his chance to play at the Michigan State University. He came here because of his relationship with the coaches and he felt that Dantonio was more interested in him than others that were offering opportunity.
However, when Gaines arrived to Michigan State, he quickly realized that his time in East Lansing was going to be a bit different. “Coach Dantonio and I never really had a relationship. We never really spoke and I never really saw him. I mean it wasn’t a bad relationship, but it just wasn’t one in which we would stop and have a conversation. It was more like if I was walking around the facility I would say ‘What’s up?’ to him, but we wouldn’t just stop and have a little conversation. We really only spoke if there was a meeting or we had an appointment."
Gaines went on to say, “I do think Coach D is a cool person. He has a sense of humor and is funny sometimes. He’s a good coach and they have a good system going on. He knows what he’s doing defensively. Offensive wise, I mean he doesn’t really work with our offense so I can’t really judge him based off of our offense. He is a players coach. He looks out for his players as much as he can.”
The answer to why players transfer, instead of staying at that school and waiting for ideal opportunity to play, varies. When asked, Gaines said, “I didn’t play a lot at MSU. I played maybe 20, 30 plays at the most.”
“I guess Coach D chooses who plays and who doesn’t. I transferred because the coaches and I were not on the same page. I already had a feeling they weren’t going to play me. They kept switching my position in the middle of spring ball. I played like three whole different positions,” Gaines said.
“I will now be playing at Arizona Western University at the cornerback position. I chose the school because it was the fastest one to show interest in me and they gave me a scholarship. They were the first school that contacted me. I wasn’t trying to wait for any other schools because I was just trying to make my decision then,” Gaines added.
Gaines has spoken to the people at Arizona Western Junior College and he thinks he will be playing a lot. “I don’t regret leaving MSU because I wasn’t playing a lot so I was just wasting my time. I mean I went to MSU for my education and to play football, but let’s be real. Without football I wouldn’t even be in this position and I want to play football,” Gaines said.
“When I was at Michigan State, they didn’t know what position they wanted me to be so that’s why I got frustrated come spring. One day I was a receiver and another day I’m on defense. It was like that all spring, I was never on one side of the ball. In the spring you only practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so on Tuesdays I was on offense and on Thursdays I was on defense. Then when we would scrimmage on Saturday, I’m running back and forth between offense and defense. I didn’t know the offensive plays at all because I just got moved there in spring. I was learning while competing and it really didn’t make sense,” Gaines said.
The public has speculated as to why so many MSU football players decided to leave the program. However, Gaines is crystal clear in his reasoning. “I didn’t leave because of all the losing and I didn’t leave because of the sexual assault cases. That incident had nothing to do with me. I was there to play football, but I didn’t get any playing time. So I left because of that and that only.”
When asked about the players who left, his response was, “Sheesh.” He went on to say, “That’s eight people that left including the people who left last year that either graduated or left early to the draft. That’s a lot of people.”
Gaines said, “Four out of the eight left due to the sexual assault cases. I left because of no playing time. I think the other people who transferred were in the same situation. I think they left because of grades and no playing time, but I don’t know for sure.”
“Losing all those people hurt them because some of the people who left actually played last year and contributed to the team. Now their team is full of young people who might have not played much last year, but they were there learning and they also have incoming freshman. So losing those people may have hurt the team, but they’ll still have a good season,” Gaines said.
The fate of Michigan State football is still up in the air, which has left people to question whether the Spartans will make a comeback. Gaines said, “I think they’ll come back, but I don’t think they’ll end their season with double digit wins. I give them nine games, 9-3. We lost a lot of games last year that we could have won. We just didn’t finish in the fourth quarter. You can either have a good season or a bad season. Eventually it’ll happen to all the best. Last year was that bad year for us.”
Mentally, having one of the worst seasons in MSU football history takes a toll on a player. When asked how players handled that, Gaines said, “After we lost that game to Indiana, people stopped caring and they were just trying to make it through the rest of the season. And you know when you keep losing people start to argue and point fingers. But, nobody fell out and the team was never really divided.”
“What I appreciated was the fact that the players who actually play and are the known names never treated the players who didn’t play differently. That is why we were all close on the team. Those were my brothers. But yea, if you don’t play, they still treat you the same. But, the coaches treat people super different. I mean it’s different, but it’s not. That’s just how sports are. If you have a big name, you can get away with almost everything. You can definitely get away with more than those who don’t have a big name. That’s just how it is even though it’s not cool. I guess he’s helping the team and you’re not,” Gaines said.
This was a rough year that no one saw coming, especially when it came to the sexual assault charges. “The state of the team at that time was something I had never witnessed. It was crazy. The coaches were obviously more strict and overprotective because of what was going on. They made us do more team activities together like when they had us go to the Breslin and watch MSU basketball play Miami during March Madness. They were always trying to keep the team together so that we wouldn’t be out partying and they could keep an eye on us.”
“Despite what people may think, the vibe was never negative, it was actually positive. They would tell us to not let it discourage us and to focus on the people who were in the room, not those who are in trouble. You can’t worry about players who are not on the team, you have to move forward,” Gaines said.
“What I will remember the most is going to practice and having fun with my teammates. With Michigan State football, you have to make your own fun, so that’s what we did at practice and in the locker room. I will also remember going to the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. However, people have to understand that although I was happy for my team getting that bowl win, I didn’t do much my freshman year so I was just there. I wish I was able to do more. I’ll miss my teammates the most,” Gaines said while reminiscing.
Gaines will play out his final two years of eligibility at Arizona Western Junior College, majoring in Communications. His future goals include playing in the league and eventually becoming a sports analyst.