If you spend more than ten minutes this summer even thinking about MSU football it is hard not to talk defense. It is the foundation that Mark Dantonio has laid and set for his program. The Spartan D stands for toughness, attitude, and an attack mentality that would make any General proud.
Practices are intense, driven, and they make young men forge relationships like hot steel in the pounding, hitting, and physicality that kind of a system calls for. From that fire has emerged two young men from the 2011 recruiting class that gave garnered praise and attention in Shilique Calhoun, a redshirt freshman from Middletown, NJ and Joel Heath from Cincinnati, OH.
With a name like Hondo I had to ask Calhoun where the name Shilique came from. With a broad grin he told me the story that even makes him laugh. “My Grandmother told me she gave me that name because there was a guy who was a fine gentleman who was always kind and polite to ladies and she wanted me to be that way.” So technically Grandma set you on a course to be a ladies man? “(Much laughter) well in a good way.”
These two young men are as special off the field as on it.
Don’t take my word for it. Pat Narduzzi says of the redshirt freshman, “They are doing a really good job, not only on what they are doing but also on pushing the older players to do what we can do as well. I think they are really talented, just naturally have a lot of physical talent. They can run and hit and do things like that. They are picking up the schemes really well and I think they are going to do some really good things in the future.”
Dantonio is not one to mince words. He doesn’t give false praise and has said of Heath, “He has Will Gholston type ability.” That says something. Heath doesn’t rest with his coaches’ praise though. “It means something, but I can’t rest and stop there. I have to work even harder because if he sees that in me I have to make that happen. He added, “I try not to let that fill my head. I just want to get better.”
Upon hearing those words of praise from the head man, Calhoun is quick to point out that if Heath gets an ego, “I am ready to pop it.”
Dantonio has as much praise for Calhoun. He said of his young star, “Shilique has Julian‑Peterson type ability. I was here when Julian was here. I recruited Julian and saw him transition in his years here and become a dominant football player. He has the ability to make big plays. He’s extremely quick off the edge, and he’s got power. He’s a guy that can be a great football player here. He’s going to play. Because of the nature of our defense, we keep people fresh and play a lot of players. So there is a great future ahead of him in that respect.”
Dantonio went as far as saying earlier this week, “He is going to play a lot for us.”
That is what coaches are saying. These two future stars aren’t letting it get to their head. They have grown into close friends, bonded by football, but close like brothers because of character, a strong work ethic, and values. Two young people, from different parts of the country with a friendship made of steel.
Forget what the coaches say; you should hear what they say of each other.
I spent some time with both of them recently and I asked Heath about Calhoun. What makes him a special person? With a big smile he said, “Shilique is definitely an amazing individual. He is always helpful on learning plays, such a supporter of me personally and truly an amazing teammate and a great friend.”
Not to be outdone, Calhoun couldn’t wait to brag on his buddy Heath. He added, “He (Heath) came to me after the spring game. He came to me and said he was rooting for me to make plays the whole game. We were on different teams. He is a great motivator and keeps me motivated. He isn’t about himself. It is about team and I appreciate that about him.”
At only 245 pounds, Calhoun is the smaller of the two future MSU bookends, but his praise just isn’t for Heath. He told me, “Joel Heath, Tyler Hoover, White (Anthony Rashad) and Will (Gholston) are a bunch of monsters. I can’t wait to play with those guys. I wish I could have been eating like they are.”
Even watching them practice in heat well into the high 90’s, it is nearly impossible to catch them without a smile and having fun. As long as they are together, even in the midst of adversity, they are having fun working hard and playing the game that they love. But they aren’t afraid to tell on one another.
I asked Calhoun to tell me his funniest Heath story and he didn’t hesitate. “When we first got her Joel was a DT and he got pancaked. He got up and said that would not happen again. He was all serious and angry. Now that was funny.”
After hearing his buddy dish on him, Heath wasted no time telling his funniest Calhoun story. So much so that the moment it started Calhoun tried to interrupt him and I would have none of that. Heath told me, “When we first got here, him and Taiwan (Jones) and I were hanging out together a lot. He had borrowed Taiwan’s IPOD and he dropped it. Right on the ground and it breaks. He wasn’t going to tell him. So I picked it up. I said you have to tell him now so I went and told him. He was like no, no, no, but we did.” Both men had a hearty laugh over that.
It would be unfair to characterize them as only happy go lucky young men. They are serious. They are responsible. The smiles are ever present, but they aren’t in lieu of hard work and living lives of character. Heath is not quiet about his faith. He said, “I am absolutely not ashamed of my faith. I grew up in the church and I keep Jesus Christ in every part of my life. I use football for a medium to reach out to people.”
Calhoun has great appreciation for the depth of faith Heath has and shares. “He is such a blessing to me, always encouraging with the Word and with his faith. That is something really special about him.”
In an age where every time you turn on your computer you read about another athlete in trouble it is wonderful to see these two. They are what is right about college football and college athletes.
This duo could start as a tandem at at least nine Big Ten schools. They are big, fast, athletic, tremendous gentleman and frankly really good. Is waiting behind William Gholston and Marcus Rush, the two best DE’s in the league, going to create some controversy? Calhoun says, “No way. We are Spartans. When we aren’t on the field we are the biggest fans of the other guys.” Heath says it even more succinctly, “We are definitely waiting our turn. We’re Spartans first, but we know our time is coming to take over and we’ll be ready. We just want to make plays. It’s all about team at Michigan State. If you are a me player you don’t come here. It is about the Spartans. That is what Coach Dantonio is building and why we both wanted to come here.”