Ex-Michigan State football teammates up for election, say football helps in 'game of life'

Brian Mosallam and Jason Strayhorn were part two of the biggest Michigan State football upsets in the 1990s, brothers along the offensive line a few years apart.

Now, they are both running for state office.

Mosallam is an incumbent Democrat running for a second term on the MSU Board of Trustees; Strayhorn said he saw what his former teammate was doing in the political realm and decided to enter his name for the State Board of Education race.

Jason Strayhorn

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“I looked at where could I make an impact,” said Strayhorn, also a Democrat and a father of three. “My wife and I are always looking for places that we can donate our time or resources to make an impact. And when I found out about the State Board of Education, as a volunteer position, being able to use my voice to make change for the future, I thought this was a perfect fit.”

The election is Tuesday.

Mosallam, who was elected to the Board of Trustees in 2014, served alongside his former coach, George Perles. Perles, who died in January, served as a board member from 2007-18 after he was fired as MSU’s football coach in 1994.

“Even when I was in college, I always loved the university, I always thought it was a cool position,” Mosallam said this week. “I never wanted to be paid in politics. It was always a dream goal of mine, to be honest, since the day I played. I enjoy it because it was about as non-partisan as a partisan position could get. I love the fact that regardless, if there's an 'R' or a 'D' by your name, we've all got an 'S' by our name — we're Spartans. That's what made it so attractive to me.”

Brian Mosallam

The two most memorable games of their football careers — both under Nick Saban, Perles’ replacement — involved pulling off wins few thought the Spartans could.

Strayhorn, who works in real estate and is the color analyst on MSU football radio broadcasts, watched as a redshirt freshman in 1995 when Mosallam and the Spartans upset Michigan, 28-25, in Saban’s first year. Mosallam was the starting right guard in that game, in which MSU was a 13-point underdog.

And much like Saturday’s game, the Spartans were coming off a humbling loss (at Wisconsin) and the Wolverines off a big win over Minnesota.

“I remember we were a little banged up coming out of (Wisconsin), and I remember it was coach Saban's birthday that week,” Mosallam said. “I remember everybody came out that Monday morning to practice like it was a whole different mood. I'll never forget that week. … I feel 25 — I can't believe that it was 25 years ago. It's unbelievable how fast time flies. That was a very, very special moment. I still remember it sold so vividly, winning that game and the way we celebrated afterwards.”

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Three years later, Strayhorn started at center as MSU pulled off one of the biggest upsets in program history. A 27½-point underdog, the Spartans went to Columbus and shocked No. 1 Ohio State, 28-24, to end the Buckeyes’ national title hopes in 1998.

“You're talking about a 27½-point underdog, going on the road to the Horseshoe, 100,000 fans — they take it serious down there,” Strayhorn recalled this week. “So all you have is the few players in that huddle when you're out on the field, and they're going crazy trying to confuse you so you can't make the calls to make the checks at the line of scrimmage. And we were able to to hang in there."

Strayhorn said he feels the lessons he and Mosallam learned in working as a collective both as offensive linemen and football players make entering politics a logical transition. He saw Perles, who recruited him and Mosallam to MSU, as a way to use the voices they developed as players to affect societal change and working toward a common goal.

“You're talking about being a football player, and that that locker room is a unique place,” Strayhorn said. “And you cast aside any race, religion, creed and sexual orientation — all that stuff doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is we're on the same team, and we're trying to win the game.

“And once you take off the helmet and shoulder pads and cleats and you put those away, we're all in the same game of life here. And I feel like every citizen is on the same team with me.”

Contact Chris Solari: Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Ex-MSU football teammates up for election cite gridiron inspiration