Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Homecoming: B.J. Cunningham

Prior to 2010, the All-Time Career Reception leader was Matt "Stone Hands" Trannon. You might think it's such a strange thing that "Stone Hands" was the nickname in my house for MSU's all time reception leader, but so it is. His freshman year I think he dropped as many passes as he caught and even in his Senior Year when he wasn't throwing touchdown passes he still occasionally had a drop that was all LOL WUT. So not only did it surprise me, but it pleased me greatly to learn that coming into the season that B.J. Cunningham was only 10 catches away from moving old "Stone Hands" down to number two.

When Mark Dantonio arrived in late 2006 the first order of business was to give all of the JLS assistants their walking papers and then call up all of our current commitments and inform them that their scholarship offers were being re-examined. For obvious keepers like Keith Nichol and Mark Dell this was merely a formality, for guys like this was the end of their courtship with Michigan State. For guys like B.J. Cunningham who were being recruited by Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati, this was the beginning of a new courtship with Michigan State.

In December 2006, Cunningham committed to MSU just a few weeks after Dantonio took over as head coach. He was a three-star prospect according to Rivals and Scout. He and Mark Dell came in as the two WR's in the class of 2007, Dell was the heralded four-star talent and Cunningham the important workmanlike possession receiver. Cunningham described his strength as: "I can go up and get the ball and I am good at running after the catch. I also have no problem going across the middle" Here's a clip of him doing and an interview with the man himself doing all that to displace old "Stone Hands".

Cunningham was redshirted in 2007 while Mark Dell saw playing time stretching the field for Devin Thomas. Dantonio went to say "Head coach Mark Dantonio said Cunningham could have made a significant contribution in 2007 from midseason on had he not redshirted." This too, turned out to be oddly prophetic as Cunningham finished in second for team receptions in 2008 with 41 only being beaten out by Blair White.

In 2009, the year of the "Cousins/Nichol when you have two quarterbacks you have none" platooning, Cunningham increased his catches from 41 to 48. Blair White made himself available like 7-11 for Cousins that year catching an astounding 70 passes. Cunningham again showed himself as a reliable person to move the sticks and again finished second in total catches.

In 2010, B.J. Cunningham finished second in receptions for the third year in a row. He tallied 50 catches to Mark Dell's 51. In a move which might help describe the current state of MSU pass-catching, he led the team in touchdown catches with nine, good for 45 percent of Cousins' total touchdown haul.

So we come to 2011 and I felt a bit like Cunningham was under the radar. We knew he was solid, but the MSU All-Time Reception leader? More catches than Andre Rison, Plaxico Burress, Charles Rogers and Kirk Gibson? Well yes, he finished a strong second to each of the leaders in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and within a few catches except for 2009 where Blair White was open every damn play.

So it's fitting that this trip to Ohio State is going to be his homecoming. While he doesn't boast the ridiculous speed of Charles Rogers or the takeover ability of Plaxico Burress, B.J. Cunningham is the personification of Mark Dantonio football. Cunningham catches the ball and move the chains. Does he have a chip on his shoulder that he wasn't offered by Ohio State, I don't pretend to know and I don't think it's relevant. What is relevant is that when B.J. Cunningham goes home to his homecoming on Saturday he has the opportunity to belong definitively in that list of Spartan great receivers.

While it's fair to suggest that having this record alone above all those other guys should mention him in the same breath as those receivers, it isn't. After all, how many people think back to the days of good old Matt "Stone Hands" Trannon and wish we had him back? Hey, did you know he also played basketball? You need to have that Marquee win, like Plax did against Michigan in 1998 or Rison helping beat USC a second time in the Rose Bowl.

B.J. Cunningham can get that win this Saturday. He doesn't need to do anything flashy to do it either. He needs to do what he does best. He needs to play his own Mark Dantonio football, not flashy, not grandiose, not tricky. He just needs to catch passes and move the chains. In short, he just needs to do his job. If everyone else can follow the lead of B.J. Cunningham, I'd just give us a fighting chance.


  1. Good article, I'm borderline stalking BJ so I appreciate you giving him this love...

    Plax's signature win over Michigan was 1999, he went crazy in 1998 vs Notre Dame.

    BJ is by far the best MSU WR that has actually played all 4 years of his eligibility.

    You should include the amazing group of Mason, Carter, Muhammed as well in any MSU WR discussion.

  2. Thank you. I was IMing with Ty as I was wrapping the article up last night and kept saying I know I'm forgetting someone here. Mason and Muhammad are gimmes and I'm a bit sheepish I didn't remember them. Not sure which Carter you're referring to though.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Fatman,

    Thank you, my memories of MSU football really began in 98. I have some memories of the Rose Bowl years although during those years I lived less than a mile from the big hole. Thanks to the power of the googles and a first name though I was able to find some stuff on him.