Sitting next to Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun at MSU’s media day in August, he talked with me about being a leader.
After all, when I asked head coach Mark Dantonio at Big Ten media days about the quality leadership of his senior class, he praised them but also said you don’t have to be a senior to be a leader – and pointed to Calhoun as a great leader.
Calhoun was taken aback when I told him Dantonio’s comment and he told me on that day in August that he had set out to be a leader since he arrived in East Lansing.
”I don’t want to sit in the back,” he said. “I just want to step up and help my team as much as I can.”
It’s easy to talk about being a leader, but when accolades and national attention are showered on you, it’s equally easy to puff your chest and point to yourself.
Calhoun has received just about every national and conference defensive player of the week award for his two-touchdown performance against South Florida. It would make sense that he would be excited about things such as being talked about on Heisman Award watch lists.
Instead, the sophomore said he has not played well in the first two games of the season.
”I feel like I have played crappy in both games,” he said on Tuesday. “I don’t feel like I’ve exceeded my potential at all. I don’t even feel like I’ve reached my potential. There are a lot of goals I set for myself that I didn’t reach, like my sack count. I want to be up in sacks and I don’t feel like I reached that. I only have one sack so far on the year. I am disappointed with myself, but like I said, I am going to come out here and work every day and get better.
”There is always room for improvement and I feel like I have a lot of room for improvement.”
It is tough to imagine improving on three touchdowns in two games as a defensive end, but maybe that is because Calhoun quickly deflects the praise for his scores to his teammates – every time.
After his first touchdown, a 16-yard fumble return against Western Michigan, he said how happy he was for his team and the defense.
”I was happy they created a score for me and we were able to hit that goal on the hit sheet,” he said last Tuesday.
After Saturday’s game against South Florida, Calhoun said he wanted to thank his teammates for making his 56-yard interception and return happen with good blocks.
”It was another opportunity where I could make it to the end zone and I was pretty happy,” he said on Saturday. “I just want to thank my teammates.”
When he talked about his 4-yard fumble return against South Florida, he pointed out that he was completely out of the play and when defensive tackle Tyler Hoover hit the quarterback, the ball just happened to come his way.
”I was excited and the first person I ran to was Tyler Hoover,” Calhoun said. “As soon as I hit the end zone I was running around and I see him, there he is. Even after I celebrated with him in the end zone, after we sat down I walked over to him and said thank you, thank you very much, you provided that for me.
”Even though I did it on the field, I felt like I wanted it to be me and him and say thank you very much for your individual play.”
There has to be some element of three touchdowns that Calhoun points to himself for, right? Not really. Calhoun said he just guesses he is lucky and keep catching “lightning in a bottle.”
”I guess it’s just my luck,” he said. “I guess these guys want me to score so they are putting me in the right position at the right time. I thank them for it definitely. It must be that lightning in a bottle, though, I believe that.”
With all the crediting his teammates, it is easy to see why Calhoun said he is friends with everyone on the team on both sides of the ball.
”These guys are my brothers,” he said. “I love being around them, definitely. They bring the life out of me and I love them to death.”
So as Calhoun is featured on this week’s Heisman Watch lists across the nation, it’s little wonder his teammates are excited for him. When you are always so excited about everyone else, it is inevitable they will return the favor.
”It’s a great feeling and I heard from a couple my teammates that they are pretty excited to see me on there,” he said. “Just for us to be able to highlight this university is a great feeling.”