Imagine these scenes at Spartan Stadium a decade or more from now when Mark Dantonio’s first Michigan State championship football teams receive anniversary recognition.
Defensive end Will Gholston is part of the 2011 players that won the Legends Division title and advanced to the first Big Ten Championship game. That the Spartans came up short in a nail-biting loss to Wisconsin doesn’t overshadow a season that was a significant milestone in rebuilding Spartan Nation.
Defensive end Shalique Calhoun would be part of the 2013 team that won the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl and the 2014 team that won the Cotton Bowl. And with his decision to return for his senior year, maybe more team trophies and individual awards in 2015.
Who would hear the louder cheers? Who would hear applause and shouts build to a roar?
Basketball is no different; look there for your answer. Jason Richardson and Zach Randolph will never hear the cheers and love that greet Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Shawn Respert and Draymond Green when they return to the Breslin Center over the years. And Richardson and Randolph are successful pros. Do you think anyone remembers Marcus Taylor?
That may not mean much to a kid leaving early for pro dollars, but it will to an alumnus with gray hair.
I call it the Duffy Rule: Stay and they'll never forget you.
I remember my senior year when Duffy Daugherty was honored at halftime of Michigan State’s 1978 spring game six years after he retired. It didn’t matter Dufy’s program turned downward his final six seasons or that he had been back to campus for many times. He was known for winning and staying 19 seasons. The Duffy Rule guaranteed a warm reception every time he was trotted out before the fans.
The only guy that pulled off leaving early and remaining an icon is Magic Johnson, but he won an NCAA title before departing for the NBA Draft and his Hall-of-Fame future with the Los Angeles Lakers. He is an immortal living in another realm – and for good reason. There are three statues on campus: Sparty -- dedicated June 9, 1945 – followed by President John Hannah and Earvin “Magic” Johnson (as he was known in Lansing and as a Spartan). That’s iconic company to break into, although a case could be made for adding Biggie Munn, Duffy Daugherty and Jud Heathcote statues as national championship coaches.
“There isn't any question that Shilique would have been a high pick if he had elected to enter this year's NFL Draft,” Dantonio said when Calhoun made his announcement at the Breslin Center. “But with another season under his belt, he can further enhance his status as a first-round selection and firmly establish himself as a Top 20 draft choice. Not only is Shilique an outstanding player, but he's a tremendous team leader. He's become invaluable in his capacity as a captain.
"Shilique is an exciting, explosive playmaker, who plays with great technique. He has an opportunity to become a three-time first-team All-Big Ten player and a consensus first-team All-American. Shilique looks forward to the opportunity to continue to grow as a football player, and we will look to do some new and innovative things in our defensive package to help further increase his productivity.”
Calhoun has gained more awards and recognition than Gholston through three college seasons, but let us not overlook that Gholston was a pivotal prospect that signaled Dantonio can recruit with Alabama, Michigan and Ohio State for some of the elite players. Alabama kept after Gholston, but he remained committed to the Spartans. As a 5-star prospect, his commitment and advancement to the NFL as a draft pick enhanced future recruiting.
It’s hard to blame a player such as Gholston leaving early for lottery-like paydays -- unless they failed to safely invest the money – so this isn’t meant to single him out. It’s just that he and Calhoun are comparable stories to compare in a similar time frame.
As Michigan State fans and alums, we want to think the players are more than football mercenaries. We want to feel they have degree goals and the same school spirit rushes through them that takes us to games, positions us in front of the TV, radio and podcasts and spurs us to open newspapers and websites.
It’s no different to a lesser degree when Michigan State sports journalists heavyweights such as Jarrett Bell, Jack Ebling, Rick Gosselin, Lynn Henning, Joe Rexrode, Charles Robinson and lesser-known names such as myself are invited back to advise students at the Spartan Sports Journalism Classic sponsored by the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. Our college years meant something, and we want to do our part for our alma mater to stand out.
Calhoun said as much with his explanation to return:
"I made the decision to return to Michigan State in order to complete my education and earn my bachelor's degree. That's an important investment in my future. I also decided to return for my senior year because I love my teammates and this coaching staff, even with the loss of (former defensive coordinator) Pat Narduzzi. It means a great deal to me to be able to wear the Michigan State uniform for one more year.”
Even if an athlete’s senior year is a letdown with injuries, the label of a four-year player who turned down a quick payday for a unique experience remains attached.
As for Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, there was less speculation surrounding his decision to return than Calhoun’s. He could have pulled off leaving early and hearing love later in life as a quarterback; they’re in another category. But Cook can take his legend to another level that he couldn’t have otherwise reached if he left for the NFL now. He could be a leading Heisman Trophy candidate next year.
Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes is the exception of the three Spartans underclassmen from the 2014 team with NFL options who has decided to leave. Again, you can’t blame him with the money awaiting him. But Darqueze Dennard was in the same position two years ago. He stayed his senior year and collected the Jim Thorpe Award.
That’s an honor that will eventually gain Dennard entrance into Michigan State’s Hall of Fame. He will be honored at a ceremony on a distant night and trotted out at Spartan Stadium on game day. He’ll hear louder cheers than he would have heard if he had left early.
It’s the Duffy Rule.