You can call Shilique Calhoun whatever you want — he has at least three nicknames so far — but be sure to call him one of the best defensive ends in the nation.
Calhoun, a 6'4", 257-pound fourth-year junior from Middletown, N.J., shunned early entry into the NFL, despite a first-round draft grade, to return to Michigan State with the intent of earning his degree and leading the Spartans into the College Football Playoff.
Michigan State finished last season 13–1 and ranked No. 3 in the nation after a 24–20 victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl and a 34–24 win over previously unbeaten Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Calhoun scored three defensive touchdowns for the Spartans in 2013 and recorded 7.5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss and 18 QB hurries en route to being named the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Coordinator Pat Narduzzi, whose defensive units have ranked in the nation’s top six each of the past three seasons, referred to Calhoun as “Shilique the Freak’’ in the days leading up to the Rose Bowl.
Athlon Sports caught up with the loquacious Calhoun, the unofficial spokesman of Spartan Nation, during the offseason.
Why did you choose Michigan State?
The biggest reason for me to come to Michigan State was not only the players, but also the coaches. It was like a close family here. Being here I was a part of a family. I didn’t feel like I was leaving home. My mom loved it here, and after my official visit here, she told me Michigan State was the measuring stick. When I came here, I actually had a Mohawk, and the guys at the table were having fun with me. It was like they were my older brothers, so I felt like it was family, even though they didn’t know who I was, and I was a simple recruit. It was like they’d known me for years. I just bought into this program.
Why do you think you weren’t rated higher than a 3-star recruit coming out of high school?
I’m not worried about where I’m rated or ranked. I feel like if I come out and play as hard as I can each and every day, I’ll be fine. Those stars and numbers don’t mean much to me. Part of the ratings process is going to camps, and I didn’t go to many; Rutgers was the only camp I went to. I didn’t have the resources to go to those camps. What I could do was go hard every play. It did push me to work harder. It was a motivator for me to work hard.
What are your various nicknames, and where did they come from?
Bane, Lynx … it depends on who you’re talking to. Different people have different nicknames for me. I have so many because of the personalities I have with different people. I don’t switch up, but sometimes I may be happy or sad. The nicknames vary. I don’t know really where they come from. I love Bane, I think that’s one that will stick with me when I’m 50. It is unique, and people around the country know it. Hopefully I can get Lynx to stick, too. I want a couple nicknames, because I like to change things up.
Other than Michigan State, what is your favorite place to play in the Big Ten?
Other than Spartan Stadium, the Woodshed, it would have to be Michigan. Seeing all those Michigan fans booing you out there on the field and telling you how much you suck. That pushes me. I can’t deal with Nebraska, who’s so nice to you. That’s kind of off base. Playing at Michigan, they want to throw you down and give you all these negative comments.
What’s your least favorite place to play in the Big Ten?
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It would have to be Minnesota. It’s the icy tundra. It’s too much. We played there two years ago, last game of the season. It was freezing. I thought my fingers were going to fall off, and I wasn’t even outside yet. That has to be my least favorite because of the weather.
Why did you choose to come back for another season?
I would say one main reason was I wanted to get my degree. My mom and my dad were unable to obtain a college degree, so I felt that would be even greater than
making it into the NFL. It’s something that’s special to my family, and something that would be special to my mom would be walking across that stage. But another reason is I wanted to come back and have another year with my brothers. Being out there is like nothing else, running out of the tunnel and playing in front of Spartan Nation is a blessing, and I didn’t feel ready to give that up. I wanted to come back another year, and do great things, and please the coaches, and please the crowd, and play more games with guys I love and the guys I have built relationships with.
Who is the best offensive lineman you’ve gone against?
I have two. The best offensive lineman I’ve gone against when it pertains to run-blocking would be (Spartan center) Jack Allen, because he was a wrestler, and that man is great with his hands. He knows exactly where to place them to get you off balance. The best pass-protector would be (Spartan left tackle) Jack Conklin. He does that best on this team. He has an idea of the type of ways you’ll set, and how you’ll use your hands. Bull-rushing him isn’t going to work. He’s 320 pounds, so that’s not going to work. He’s not moving. Those are the best I’ve gone up against so far. Just when I think I’m getting a step ahead, they are finding new ways to win against me.
Who is the best running back you’ve faced?
There are two. One would be (former Spartan and current Pittsburgh Steeler) Le’Veon Bell. He did things you wouldn’t think a guy his size could do. Hurdling guys at 240, but then he wasn’t afraid to run you over and he could also spin. You never knew what you were going to get. The other one is (current Spartan tailback) Jeremy Langford, a guy with a lot of speed who was definitely an underdog. People didn’t know he was as good of a player as he is before last season because we had other great running backs. He’ll beat you with speed, and he’ll try to run you over, also. He’s not big on chopping you. If he has to pass-protect, he’ll stand you up and hold his ground, going against guys 260 and 300 — he doesn’t take the easy way out.
Which teammate would make the best coach?
That’s a hard one. Two guys come to mind, actually. I would say (former MSU linebacker) Max Bullough definitely. He knows defensive schemes. He knows offensive schemes. He knows the game of football, and his family is embedded into football. He knows all aspects of the game. Then (former MSU defensive end) Denzel Drone. He was an aggressive football player, but he knows how to work with little kids. It didn’t seem like it fit him because of how aggressive he was, but he could work with kids, and he could calm himself down. He was one of my teachers that I looked up to that mentored me. Coming in, I knew close to nothing about football, and he was definitely an influential person to me.
What is your hidden talent?
My hidden talent would be that I can actually do gymnastics. I can do backflips. When I was younger, me and my brother would try to find different things to do. That was one of the neat things we taught each other, watching other people do it, it was like, “I kind of know what to learn.” Of course, I fell on my head a couple of times, but I was always a trooper, I got back up, and I got back at it, and still to this day I can do it, even at this size. When people see it, they’re like, “Really? That just happened? Do it again.” I definitely don’t do it as often as I used to, but here and there I’ll do a couple flips for the kids.
Something interesting that we don’t know about coach Mark Dantonio?
Where it pertains to me, something people wouldn’t know is I have not gotten yelled at by Coach Dantonio yet. Maybe I’m doing something right, sitting up straight in the meeting room, or looking him in the eye. That man is a hard book to read sometimes, even for his players. But he is someone willing to talk to you, even though his facial expressions might not always indicate it. He is always willing to listen.