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Michigan State took a chance on Darqueze Dennard, and it paid off

Jim Thorpe Award winner didn't get a scholarship offer from the Spartans until his last high school game. Now he's projected to go in the first round of the NFL Draft.
By Mike Baldwin Published: February 4, 2014

Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard is a reminder that talented players still are overlooked.

On the eve of signing day, Dennard was in Oklahoma City Tuesday night to pick up the Jim Thorpe Award, presented to college football's top defensive back.

Dennard is an amazing story. He wasn't offered a scholarship until after his final game his senior year at Twiggs County (Ga.) High School.

“It blows me away sometimes,” Dennard said. “You can never measure a guy's heart, what motivates him. Coach (Mark) Dantonio has believed in a lot of guys like that, looking under rocks. A lot of them have gone to play in the NFL.”

Listed at 5-foot-11, 197 pounds, Dennard is projected to be a mid-first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. A three-year starter for the Spartans and a two-time All-Big Ten selection, Dennard compiled 167 career tackles and 30 passes defended, including 10 interceptions.

“I'm really blessed, grateful and thankful for all the opportunities I've received,” Dennard said. “Seeing this doorway open, I'm really anxious to see how I will fit in at the next level. The NFL has so many great players.”

When Dennard's mother, Mona Lisa Curry, moved to Macon, Ga., her son stayed behind in Dry Branch, Ga. He lived with his grandparents. His grandfather, Claude, worked the chalk mines. His grandmother, Peggy, worked several years at the local zipper factory.

“Darqueze was very frustrated nobody was looking at him,” Curry said. “When his (high school) coach told him a Michigan State coach was going to be at his final game, he told Darqueze this probably was his last chance. He played a great game. Looking back, winning the Jim Thorpe Award, wow!”

Michigan State assistant Dave Warner accidentally stumbled onto Dennard. Warner was impressed after watching Dennard cover Vienna's Keith Mumphery, a Spartan commitment.

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