Football is often called a brotherhood. In a land made up of diverse people and opinions, our country is frequently divided. But every fall, when the pigskin is kicked high into the air, we are united.
Football brings together differing personalities and creates friendships. Such is the case with sophomore Shilique Calhoun and redshirt freshman Jack Conklin. The two are about as different as they could be. Shilique is a talkative, black “city kid” who plays defensive end. Jack is a shy, white “country boy” who plays offensive tackle. But the two share the close, unbreakable bond of friendship forged by football.
From the first moment the two friends interact, one can tell that they are close. Conklin and Calhoun have a witty banter only friends could share.
“I think we just give each other some crap all the time,” Conklin said of their relationship. “We’re always competing, even off the field.”
After chuckling at Conklin’s observation, Calhoun retorted: “It’s just the rivalry on the field: who can win one day, who can win another day. We bring it to the locker room, and it’s all fun and games, but on the field, it’s competition. Competition brings the best out of [Jack], he’s been playing really well, and competition has been bringing the best out of me as well.”
Last year, Calhoun got all the attention, as he played in each of the team’s 13 games and drew praise from the Spartan coaching staff. The media largely ignored Conklin, a quiet true freshman at the time. But Calhoun could see the youngster’s potential from the beginning, as he often talked about his buddy in interviews. Calhoun’s confidence encouraged Conklin and inspired him to be better.
“It really just helped motivate me even more and work even harder because these guys are depending on me to step up for the team,” Conklin explained.
The hard work has paid off for the redshirt freshman, who currently stands at the top of the depth chart at left tackle. Calhoun is not at all surprised by Conklin’s emergence.
“I knew he was going to step up: he’s been playing well, through camps and the past couple of days. Even back when we were doing winter conditioning, he was running well,” Calhoun boasted. “Since he’s been here, he’s been a great player. I knew he was going to advance, I knew he was going to step up and take the position.”
Asked to name Conklin’s greatest strength, Calhoun replied, “To be continued. You’ll see it on the field, that’s all I can give you,” he said. “You will see: that will be plain and obvious…We have people who are playing us, so I don’t want to give his strengths or weaknesses away.”
Calhoun has also taken a big step forward in his development. Since serving as a backup for all of last season, the sophomore is currently listed as the starter at defensive end.
“As you get older, you start to learn the game a lot more. You can see the more advanced players and they take you under their wing, and as the years go by, you get to know it as much as they do,” Calhoun explained. “Then, it’s nothing but playing and going all out. There’s nothing else to do but have fun.”
Conklin also noted how tough it is going against his pal in practice. “He’s so fast, but he also brings a lot of force when he uses that bull rush,” Conklin said. “I try to get out on him sometimes and he brings all that speed right into me, so it keeps me guessing.”
When asked to name a winner between the two so far in training camp, Calhoun immediately replied that he was the best, to which Conklin playfully countered, “You’re playing me.”
One thing the two can agree on is that they are psyched for Michigan State’s opening game against Western Michigan on Friday, August 30.
“I can’t wait, man. I’m ready to go. It’s like no other experience,” Calhoun said. “It’s going to be [Jack’s] first time knowing that he’s actually going to be playing, so I’m sure it’ll be a different feeling for him. I had that feeling last year and I can’t wait to get that feeling back again with my brothers.”
Conklin added, “It’s right around the corner, I’m ready to go.”
An unlikely friendship made up of two totally different people, the relationship between Shilique Calhoun and Jack Conklin is special. The two bring a certain energy that is hard to quantify. The Spartan Nation should be excited to see this dynamic duo hit the field this season, as each has the potential to make a significant impact for the Spartans.