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13 Michigan State Sedrick Irvin has always carried his load, but this year he'll run free of the shadows cast by other Big Ten backs

Chutzpah, thy name is Sedrick Irvin. Here's a young man who
spent 1992's Hurricane Andrew huddled with six other people in a
bathroom in his native Miami, cracking jokes as the roof was
being blown off the house. Who's so self-assured that in his
first meeting with Spartans coach Nick Saban upon arriving in
East Lansing, he told Saban that he had spent the previous night
in jail. Saban, aware that Sedrick's cousin is Dallas Cowboys
wideout Michael Irvin, was less than amused.

"There's a reason they call me the Miami Mouth," says Irvin,
whose decision to attend Michigan State still has recruiters in
the Sunshine State scratching their heads. "I run my mouth so
much during practice that sometimes Coach yells at me, 'You're
not that great.'" A self-confessed windbag, Irvin is a breath of
fresh air in a program often associated with the dour
countenances of Saban, now in his fourth season, and George
Perles, who coached the Spartans from 1983 to '94. "It's
refreshing to have a guy with such an upbeat personality," says
Saban. "Besides, Sedrick's never a clown when it's time to play."

Despite back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons, Irvin was
overshadowed in the Big Ten by running backs such as Darnell
Autry of Northwestern in '96 and Curtis Enis of Penn State in
'97. Then there's fellow junior Ron Dayne of Wisconsin, who
received more ink than Irvin when both were true freshmen in
'96, never mind Irvin's 16 rushing touchdowns.

Irvin will run behind an offensive line that lost three starters
to the NFL, including All-Big Ten left tackle Flozell Adams. But
junior quarterback Bill Burke, who started two games as a
redshirt freshman and none as a sophomore, could miss the beef
more than Irvin. Burke suffers from a chronic sore back, which
can be aggravated by any twisting or throwing motion; as a
result, he was limited to throwing every other day during spring
practice. Defensive pressure only worsens the condition. It's
not inconceivable that 6'6" true freshman Ryan Van Dyke could be
the starter when the Spartans open with a visit from Colorado

"Quarterback is our one big question mark," says Saban, who,
with gifted wideouts in junior Gari Scott and sophomore Plaxico
Burress, wants to pass more often. Scott was second on the team
with 36 receptions a year ago. The 6'6" Burress, a Virginia
state champion hurdler in high school, wowed the coaching staff
with three touchdown grabs in the spring game.

The Spartans will be their typical smash-mouth selves on
defense. Nine starters, including the entire line and secondary,
return for a unit that ranked 13th nationally in total defense
last year. The playmaker on this unit is 6'5", 264-pound junior
end Robaire Smith, whose older brother Antonio plays on the
Spartans' basketball team and led the Big Ten in rebounding two
seasons ago. Robaire is physical, too, as his 11 sacks in '97
bear witness. His teammates call him Bubba after another
Spartans defensive end named Smith, who made Big Ten
quarterbacks' lives miserable before going on to NFL stardom.

The schedule isn't favorable. The Spartans' nonconference
opponents include Oregon and Notre Dame as well as Colorado
State, and they play Big Ten powerhouses Michigan, Ohio State
and Penn State on the road. But as Irvin might say, bring 'em on.

--John Walters

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Triple threat Irvin has a shot at back-to-back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. [Sedrick Irvin in game]

Fact Sheet

1997 record: 7-5 (4-4, tied for 6th in Big Ten)
Final ranking: unranked

Scoring 29.0 16.9
Rushing Yards 199.5 115.4
Passing Yards 182.5 185.7
Total Yards 381.9 301.1


Pivotal Players

True freshman quarterback Ryan Van Dyke stands tall in the
pocket at 6'6", which is just one reason that coach Nick Saban
has no reservations about starting him should a troublesome back
limit incumbent Bill Burke's effectiveness.... Senior free
safety Sorie Kanu, second on the team in tackles last year, with
96, is the fiercest hitter in what may be the Big Ten's top

Key Games

Schedule strength: 42nd of 112

Sept. 26 at Michigan Number of games the Spartans have won in
Ann Arbor since 1986: one.

Nov. 28 at Penn State The Nittany Lions are still smarting from
their 49-14 spanking of a year ago.

The Bottom Line

Saban: "This team has to get over the hump and believe it can
win the big games. Just being good is not good enough."