Maxwell ready to make his mark at MSU

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Andrew Maxwell can predict with absolute certainty at least one thing that will happen this season. No matter what he does, he will be compared to Kirk Cousins.

"I've gathered that, yeah," he says, smiling.

It's only natural. Cousins started the past three years at quarterback for Michigan State, leaving his stamp on the program as arguably the top signalcaller in school history. Now Maxwell will take over the huddle for the Spartans and try to keep the success going.

Both have much in common. They're both 6-foot-3. They're both very good students who are eloquent in interviews. They both have strong leadership skills, and count their faith as essential parts of their being.

"They're the same kind of people," Michigan State left tackle Dan France said. "Andrew is just like Kirk back there."

Yet Maxwell is his own person and player. He has learned a lot by serving as Cousins' understudy, but he will not simply provide a carbon copy for the Spartans.

"I can't let the comparisons overwhelm me," he said. "I can't get too caught up in trying to be Kirk's replacement. I just have to focus on being Andrew Maxwell, on being the starting quarterback for Michigan State."

Maxwell sprained his right knee in a scrimmage 10 days ago, and will miss the rest of the spring. The injury is not considered serious, however, and Michigan State has every expectation that Maxwell will start the season opener.

When he does, it will be the culmination of a long waiting process for the fourth-year junior. He was an Elite 11 quarterback in high school who came to Michigan State after Brian Hoyer completed his career. Cousins and Keith Nichol were competing for the starting job that year, so Maxwell knew he might have to sit for a while. A while ended up lasting three years.

"It was something I prepared myself for when I committed," he says. "But I don't know if I actually knew how long three years was."

Many players with his talent would have looked to transfer or sulked about playing time. Maxwell did neither.

"He's an extremely patient young man," head coach Mark Dantonio said. "There's never been a feeling of entitlement or a need to be playing from him. He's never once come in and said, 'I need reps, I need this, I need that.'"

Instead, Maxwell bided his time on the sidelines, trying to soak up as much knowledge as he could.

"Everything I learned from watching Kirk in the games -- the mistakes he made on the field, the good things he did -- I could learn all that from a distance," he said. "Whereas those are things I would have had to learn the hard way if I had played as a younger player, making mistakes on the fly. Instead, I made those mistakes kind of in the dark behind Kirk.

"I'm not saying I'm not going to make mistakes. But I have gained a lot of learning experiences from sitting."

For all their similarities, there are some key differences between Maxwell and Cousins.

Maxwell is a little more athletic than Cousins. He was a high jumper in high school, at one point clearing 6 feet, 7 inches. Which basically means he jumped over William Gholston, though he's not apt to try that in practice. ("I don't know if the Fosbury Flop would work as well against Will," he jokes).

That extra mobility means Michigan State can do a few different things with Maxwell.

"I think he can extend plays," offensive coordinator Dan Roushar said. "I don't know that he's a guy we can run a lot of option football with, but he can get out of the pocket, move around, extend a play and keep his eyes downfield. He can make a throw on the move, but he'll also look to run it."

Cousins was as comfortable delivering keynote addresses as he was screen passes. Maxwell isn't quite as outgoing, so he's had to work on that. As soon as last season ended, he said, he tried to assert himself vocally during winter conditioning. He's been around the team long enough that he was easily accepted.

"You can tell he's been studying his playbook for four years," center Travis Jackson said. "His knowledge of the game is incredible, and the way he comes out and leads the team is really exciting."

The Spartans won't dumb down the offense any with Maxwell at the helm. Dantonio says Maxwell is "fully functional" and can execute everything that Cousins did. The drawbacks for him are a lack of game experience and a young receiving corps that might need some time to find its sea legs.

So the early comparisons to Cousins might not be fair. But while they are inevitable, they are not insurmountable. Maxwell looks ready to make this team his own.