CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

There's just no cutting corners for Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard

Senior defensive back doesn't stand out through statistics, but opponents avoid his side of the field like the plague. Says Spartans safety Isaiah Lewis: 'He knows the game.'

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You won't find senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard's greatness in any analytic study of NCAA statistics.

Thirty players have more interceptions than Dennard's four, and he's not listed among the leaders in pass breakups.

Three of his Michigan State teammates have more tackles.

Yet, Dennard could be the most valuable player of Wednesday's Rose Bowl game against Stanford without having his name called by the public-address announcer.

You often measure a cornerback's greatness by the number of cricket chirps you hear on his side of the field.

No one is comparing Dennard to Deion Sanders, one of the best coverage cornerbacks ever, but he enjoys similar respect. Sanders was an electrifying player even though there were games he spent in isolation because opposing quarterbacks approached him like an infectious disease.

Dennard has that kind of influence.

Mike Bloomgren, Stanford's director of offense, said Dennard reminds him of NFL star Darrelle Revis.

"A guy that just locks people down," said Bloomgren, who coached with the New York Jets before joining Stanford's staff.

Dennard is so good he can cut a field in half.

Isaiah Lewis, who plays safety on Dennard's side, said sometimes "I don't even get balls thrown my way … they don't want to throw in that area at all."

Dennard is one of the main reasons Michigan State leads the nation in defense and he has also made the Spartans' offense better. Michigan State pass catchers know they will never face a tougher cornerback than the one they face every day at practice.

After going against Dennard, receiver Bennie Fowler said, "We feel like we can catch the ball on anybody."

Dennard, a senior, doesn't look imposing at 5 feet 11 and 197 pounds, but he will leave Michigan State as arguably the greatest corner in school history.

He is the first Michigan State cornerback to be a consensus first-team All-American. He won the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back, and was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award as college football's top defensive player.

No one could have projected stardom for this overachiever from Dry Branch, Ga. He was nearly invisible at Twiggs County High and received only one other scholarship offer, from Middle Tennessee State. And even that was later rescinded.

Dave Warner, a Michigan State assistant, noticed Dennard during a game in which he was scouting an opposing player, Keith Mumphery.

Warner told Coach Mark Dantonio about Dennard and Michigan State ended up signing both players.

Dennard said he was motivated by watching his mother work hard hours and by a grandfather who worked in the kaolin mines. Dennard remembers him coming home with his uniform caked in chalk.

"They motivated me and told me I had to go a different route because they didn't want me to be that kind of worker," he said.

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