Six-foot-5. Long arms. Freak athlete. Productive. Squeaky clean off the field.
Shilique Calhoun is the kind of prospect NFL scouts drool over their notebooks for. Yet when the decision came in the winter to decide whether he would make the leap to the NFL and be a potential Day 1 pick, Calhoun didn't flinch.
More than cashing in his first big pay check, Calhoun wanted that slip of paper from Michigan State signifying his completion of his degree.
"Having that opportunity is very special for me," Calhoun said. "Not only for myself but for my family and my mother. She didn’t have the opportunity to finish college so these past four, four and a half years is really for me but walking across that stage was for her, for her to have her moment and live in the moment also."
A self-proclaimed momma's boy, the massive Spartan defensive end watched his mother, Cynthia Mimes, go through difficult times throughout his life. In 2002, Calhoun's house burned down and his family was forced to move constantly from place to place. Mimes always stressed to her children the importance of an education. Her message wasn't something that always stuck with Calhoun in high school, but when she finally explained to him the connection between academics and athletics, everything started to click.
"The one thing she would say to me is: ‘You can’t play sports if you don’t have good grades,'" Calhoun said. "That right there just said everything to me. I didn’t need anything else. Once she said that, I knew that I need good grades, I need to do better because ultimately if I want to play a sport collegiately, I need to make sure that academically I’m doing what I need to in the classroom.
"Sure enough, when I was able to gain these scholarships, it kind of made her proud because she knew that I had the opportunity to get my degree."
Not only will graduation be a special moment for Calhoun, who will be a first-generation graduate, but on Oct. 10 Michigan State travels to play Rutgers, allowing the New Jersey native a trip back to the Garden State to play in front of his family. He's already (jokingly) demanded all of his teammates' free tickets for the game so he can accommodate everyone in his family for the special occasion.
"To be able to go back home and make an impact because I know a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to come all the way to Michigan and watch me play," Calhoun said. "So this will be a great opportunity for my grandmother, my older relatives to come out and witness me play, and I think it’ll be very special because I don’t think many people have the opportunity. Not only that, but a chance to play in front of the New Jersey fans, being a New Jersey native it just kind of sparks things up a lot more so you might see a tear shed that game."
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While 2015 may be a year he celebrates and honors family members, Calhoun did lose a member of his football family when Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi bolted East Lansing for the head coaching position at Pittsburgh. While the popular defensive coordinator's absence was tough ("That was my guy"), Calhoun knows the green helmets on defense will be still be swarming to the ball and punishing ball carriers on a consistent basis.
"We’ll still be the same Spartan dogs," Calhoun said. "That’s who we are. It was never a point where we felt that Coach Narduzzi was handling everything. Everyone had a hand in everything that we did so there’s going to be no need for picking up the slack. He’s irreplaceable because he’s Coach Narduzzi but at the same time he would have never left us in terrible condition."
The bubbly and fun Calhoun acts like a friendly guy off the field with the media and his teammates but when he puts his hand in the dirt before every snap, he transforms into a fitting green superhero: The Incredible Hulk. Calhoun hopes he will be carrying more than just a diploma in his hand as he leaves East Lansing (College Football Playoff trophy, anyone?) and coach Mark Dantonio knows the Michigan State family got a big boost when Calhoun put his NFL dreams on hold to lead the Spartans defense into battle one last time.
"He brings a guy with great credibility among our players, among our staff and among our opponents," Dantonio said. "He brings a great credibility back to Michigan State. I think that’s the thing he does. He’s an outstanding person."