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Mazi Smith, Ryan Hayes talk significance of ‘state championship’ against MSU

The men in the trenches were practically born into the rivalry.

Penn State v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

For one week a year, battlelines are drawn between co-workers, friend groups and even families in the state of Michigan. From Marquette to Downriver, you’re expected to pick a side even if you don’t follow either team — hell, even if you don’t care about sports.

It’s Michigan-MSU week, and Mazi Smith and Ryan Hayes know it well all too well having grown up in the Mitten State.

“You look at the history of the games we’ve played and the history of the teams, you look at the rivalry and you see why players play hard in this game,” Smith, a native of Grand Rapids, said. “You see why each team is willing to do whatever it takes to win this game no matter what. It’s a state championship. It’s a championship game we get to play in the regular season. I mean, who doesn’t want that?”

“I have family members on both sides of the rivalry,” said Hayes, a native of Traverse City. “Every year when this comes up, the talking back and forth, I just remember all of that. I’ve known the rivalry since I was a little kid.

“Every time we get out there it’s just a dogfight. I think we truly just hate each other and it comes down to that.”

In the Jim Harbaugh era alone, the rivalry has had it’s fair share of memorable moments; trouble with the snap, Jabrill Peppers’ flip following a two-point conversion, and Devin Bush’s stomping of the Spartan logo are just a few.

Since the 44-10 mauling of Mark Dantonio’s final Spartan team in 2019, though, the pendulum has started to swing back towards Michigan State — most painfully felt in last year’s clash.

Echoing the sentiments shared last week, Hayes shared his memories of the emotions on the bus ride home from East Lansing last October.

“We were all pretty pissed off after that game,” Hayes said. “I remember that feeling of just nobody really talking to each other. Everybody knew we let it slip through our fingers. It helped us for the rest of the year last year, but obviously we don’t want that to happen again.”

While Smith recognizes the bad blood that fuels this week, he has personally taken a more zen-like approach to his game preparations.

“Personally, I’m not one of those guys that has a great game being over emotional,” Smith said. “You have to keep your emotions in check and remain calm in the face of adversity. Just understand the mission.”

With both teams coming off a bye week, Saturday can’t come quick enough for either fan base.