Big Ten

Vayante Copeland, Spartans tasked with filling holes in secondary

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Vayante Copeland, Spartans tasked with filling holes in secondary

The “No Fly Zone” is a thing of the past for Michigan State.

The title for the Spartans’ secondary of two years ago was fitting back then, when Michigan State boasted arguably the nation’s finest corps of defensive backs. Darqueze Dennard won the Thorpe Award and was the No. 24 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Kurtis Drummond was last season’s Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, and Trae Waynes was the No. 11 pick in this spring’s NFL Draft.

With all three of those guys gone, it makes for a somewhat depleted unit heading into this season, but with a program the caliber of Michigan State, the next wave is always on the horizon.

Tuesday, the Spartans released their depth chart for Friday night’s season-opening contest against Western Michigan. And sitting atop one of the cornerback spots was Vayante Copeland, a redshirt freshman who head coach Mark Dantonio had plenty of praise for.

“Vayante’s a very talented player,” Dantonio said during Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference. “We redshirted him last year because we had the luxury of doing that. Great tackler. He was a sprinter in high school ... so he’s a guy that can really run. He’s got great deep-ball skills. He’s young, but he’ll be tested under fire. We’ve got a lot of other corners playing in and out of there, too, so really we’re going to have four starting guys that will play. But he gets the nod based on his summer camp. He’s had a great summer camp, and he’s an outstanding tackler.”

[MORE BIG TEN: New faces take over for Hawkeyes' inconsistent run game]

Copeland was a three-star recruit out of high school, per Rivals, with offers from plenty of other Power 5 schools but no programs with the success Michigan State has had in the past few seasons. The No. 41 cornerback in the Class of 2014, Copeland has obviously yet to play a college game after sitting out last season.

As Dantonio mentioned, there will be plenty of other guys helping Copeland attempt to fill the hole left by Waynes’ departure. There are a total of 11 career starts among the cornerbacks, with Darian Hicks accounting for 10 of those and Demetrious Cox accounting for one. Cox is the other starting corner across the field from Copeland. Hicks is further down on the depth chart.

Fifth-year senior R.J. Williamson returns at safety after starting 12 games a season ago. The other safety spot is occupied by sophomore Montae Nicholson, who started three games last year.

[MORE BIG TEN: Inexperience, injuries make Badgers O-line a question mark vs. Alabama]

But Copeland and the rest of the contributors Dantonio was talking about have no starting experience. That’s of no real concern to the head coach, who’s seen plenty of turnover heading into his ninth season at Michigan State. And why should he be worried? Dantonio has filled spots of departed starters with success many times before, posting double-digit win totals in four of the past five seasons.

As the cliche goes, next man up.

“It's guys waiting their turn, understanding the situation, our system. We talk in terms of, is that guy functional? Can he play and function within a system? Then he has to raise his level of play,” Dantonio said during his Tuesday press conference in East Lansing. “A lot of times guys wait their time. We continue to coach everybody. I just talked about all the corners. We are actively coaching those guys. So it's not just two or three guys that we're coaching at every position, it's a number of players. I think we've got talent here. We've got good players. We recruited good players. When they have an opportunity to show those talents, they've done a great job. A lot of it to me is timing, as well, and opportunity.”

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.