EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Tyson Smith was experiencing headaches toward the end of November and found out he’d had a stroke.
Needless to say, his football future was in serious jeopardy.
“Around April, May, I got my memory back,” Smith said. “Around June — before I got cleared — I got my confidence back.”
Smith was not only cleared to play in Michigan State’s season opener Saturday, he scored a touchdown on an interception return in the most heartwarming moment of his team’s 35-10 victory over Bowling Green. Brian Lewerke threw three touchdown passes for the Spartans, who put the game away in the second half.
Smith, a junior, said he thought he had about a 30 percent chance of playing again after his health issues. Coach Mark Dantonio suggested the situation may have been even less promising.
“Here’s a guy that was basically ruled out,” Dantonio said. “Sort of just kept getting a little bit better, and finally found people that said, ‘OK, you can play.’ So he really never got back with us until August.”
Smith said one of the toughest parts of his recovery was his memory problems. He’d come up with ways to try to test it.
“I would just put my wallet here and see if I could remember it,” he said. “Or think of a color one day, put it in my phone a week, see if I can remember that color.”
With the Spartans comfortably ahead in the third quarter Saturday, Smith intercepted a pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown to make it 35-3. Quite a moment for somebody who was just happy to be playing.
“The feeling when I just stepped on the field was more than football, it was a blessing to see that I’m still me,” Smith said. “I felt normal — didn’t know for sure if I was normal.”
Lewerke, who has taken over as the starting quarterback as a sophomore, went 22 of 33 for 250 yards and also made some crucial plays with his legs, running for a team-high 69 yards.
Michigan State and Bowling Green are both trying to rebound from losing seasons in 2016. The Spartans went 3-9 and then had four players dismissed amid sexual assault allegations during a tumultuous offseason , so they entered this season with a lot of work to do to return to respectability both on and off the field.
Michigan State marched down the field on the first drive of the game, only for LJ Scott to fumble the ball away near the goal line. The Spartans lost another fumble near midfield later in the quarter, but they finally took a 7-3 lead early in the second on a 7-yard touchdown run by Madre London.
From there, it was smoother sailing. Lewerke threw two TD passes to Felton Davis — a 4-yarder in the final seconds of the half and an 8-yarder in the third quarter. His 13-yard touchdown pass to Matt Sokol made it 28-3.
Cameron Jefferies returned a fumble 46 yards for a touchdown in the fourth for Bowling Green.
Bowling Green: The Falcons won their last three games of 2016 after a 1-8 start, but they didn’t mount much of a threat against Michigan State. Bowling Green managed only 108 yards through the first three quarters.
“We didn’t play well offensively today. That was a key to the game,” Bowling Green coach Mike Jinks said. “The defense did everything that we asked them to do. I’m proud of that defensive unit.”
Michigan State: A lopsided win in the opener — plus a feel-good story in Smith — was what the Spartans needed, but they won’t be happy with their turnovers. Scott, one of the team’s most accomplished players, fumbled twice, and the Spartans lost three of their four fumbles in all.
Lewerke was coming off his own medical problem — a broken leg that ended his 2016 season. He completed passes to 10 different receivers.
Bowling Green’s James Morgan was 10 for 31 for 145 yards with an interception. Scott Miller dropped a fourth-down pass near the goal line in the first quarter, when the Falcons were up 3-0.
Bowling Green’s Marcus Milton had a targeting penalty overturned by replay late in the second half, but the reprieve was only temporary for the Falcons. Fred Garth was ejected for targeting moments later.
Bowling Green: The Falcons should have an easier opponent Saturday night when they face South Dakota in their home opener.
Michigan State: The Spartans host an in-state rival in Western Michigan on Saturday, with the Broncos coming off last year’s stellar run to the Cotton Bowl.