Spartan receiver plays both ways

avid Kalan

Thousands of Spartans fans gathered last Friday night at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich., to celebrate the first basketball practice of the year. As the near capacity crowd cheered at the traditional Midnight Madness festivities, there was an excitement in the air anticipating Michigan State’s run at a third national title.

But where was forward Matt Trannon?

He was reviewing assignments in Columbus, Ohio, with the football team.

The 6-foot-6, 227 pound senior averaged 2.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game on college basketball’s biggest stage. Six months later he averages 15.4 yards per catch at wide receiver.

“It’s hard,” Trannon said. “More mentally than physically because you’ve got school, and you try to balance school with two sports. It’s hard.”

Playing football and basketball has given the Flint, Mich., native unique experiences like playing in the Final Four in St. Louis this spring, where the Spartans fell in the semifinals to eventual champion North Carolina.

“It was a dream come true,” Trannon said. “I’ll remember one thing for the rest of my life, and it’s trying to win a championship.”

Trannon won’t join the basketball team until football is over. The rigorous schedule gives him little time to recuperate, a week or two at most.

Sometimes the quick change makes the transition from the gridiron to the hardwood difficult.

“You’re so used to just banging and contact,” Trannon said. “In basketball you need to be more agile and a little more disciplined than football, so it takes me a while.”

Still, Michigan State football coach John L. Smith says playing basketball has not hindered Trannon’s dedication to football, pointing out a day after finishing at the Final Four in April, Trannon was at spring football practice.

Smith thinks basketball has improved Trannon as a wide receiver.

“He’s a big, tall, hip guy,” Smith said Sept. 20. “To get his center of gravity down, to lower his hips, to be able to cut and to move and some of those things, I think basketball has helped him.”

The learning curve has been pushed back for Trannon. After being ruled academically ineligible in his freshman year, he sat out the entire 2002 season.

When he finally returned to the football team his sophomore season, the results were, as Smith put it, disappointing. Rated one of the top wide receivers in the Midwest in high school, Trannon’s first season produced only 259 yards and no touchdowns.

Since then Trannon has been more productive. After steady improvement last year, Trannon is on pace to end this season with 42 catches, 651 yards and seven touchdowns.

Trannon’s athletic future is more likely to lie in football. The play of professional wideouts like former Michigan State receiver Plaxico Burress has created a market for tall receivers who can use their height advantage. The NBA, on the other hand, has little interest in undersized power forwards.

As Trannon prepares for the NFL draft, there is the chance that his basketball schedule might interfere with draft preparations such as the combine. But Trannon, who will not seek a professional basketball career, is not concerned.

After all, with a whole season and a half still to go before next April, Trannon falls back on a variation of an all too common saying.

Said Trannon, “You’ve got to take it just one sport at a time.”

Reach David Kalan at [email protected]