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Drummond, Jackson & Calhoun Emerge As Team Leaders

Fifth-year senior Kurtis Drummond has started 21 consecutive games at free safety.
Aug. 21, 2014

By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Laden with leadership DNA rubbed from the shoulders of so many former Michigan State captains, the mantle has been passed.

Accepting it, based on a team vote, from head coach Mark Dantonio at the end of Thursday's practice were fifth-year seniors Kurtis Drummond and Travis Jackson and fourth-year junior Shilique Calhoun.

"It's just such an honor," said Jackson, the ebullient starting left guard. "You think about the people who've come before you and you have to hold up to those names and you want to make them proud. It's all about the whole Spartan Nation and all of Spartan football.

"We're all so excited."

Jackson rose from the anonymity afforded most linemen by introducing the YES! chant to MSU through his post-touchdown celebration in last season's win over Michigan (which can be seen on Two months later, while the Spartans were being honored for their Big Ten and Rose Bowl Championships during halftime of Michigan State's Jan. 7 basketball game against Ohio State, Jackson's infectious personality overwhelmed the entire Breslin Center.

Nearly all 14,797 fans in attendance followed his lead and were on their feet, raising their arms and repeating "Yes," at the top of their lungs in a single voice.

Jackson hopes to have the same unifying effect on the Spartans as they begin the defense of their conference title and national standing with the Aug. 29 season opener against Jacksonville State.

"We've gone through such great leaders here - Kirk Cousins, Max Bullough, Blake Treadwell, Darqueze Dennard, and from an offensive line standpoint, Joel Foreman was a captain here," Jackson said. "And other guys that weren't captains..., there have been so many leaders on this team. We have a whole Unity Council of 12 people who are leaders on this team.



"So you're always learning, and taking stuff from players and coaches, and adding it to your game and your leadership skills. You learn from everyone. Being an offensive lineman, you just kind of like to preach toughness and you also want the guys to have fun and let them know you love them. I just want to be known as a team guy, who will do anything for the team."

Drummond, who's contending for the Thorpe, Bednarik and Nagurski awards because of his uncanny field awareness as a third-year starter at free safety, was nonetheless surprised by the vote of his teammates.

"I just told them how humbling it was and thanked them for appointing me to this position," Drummond said. "It was truly a blessing and caught me off-guard. I guess I didn't realize the way the team viewed me and the respect that they have for me. With the group of guys we have on this team, it could have been anybody.

"It's kind of eye-opening."

Drummond was the captain of his Hubbard (Ohio) High School team, but acknowledged that leading the Spartans puts him on a whole other level.

"This is different because this is a team full of guys who were captains of their high school teams," he said. "It's just truly humbling to have guys like that appoint me to a position like this."

With his megawatt smile and effusive manner, Calhoun was an obvious pick for captain to everyone but, well, Calhoun, who was momentarily rendered speechless for one of the few times in his life at MSU.

"It kind of took my breath away," said the quarterback-rushing end and preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. "I was like, `Wow, I guess the guys do trust in me.' It kind of put a passion into my brain to think that I have to step up a lot more because all eyes are pretty much on me when it comes to defensive line."

Known for his skills as one of the great orators in program history, Calhoun is also comfortable leading by example.

With preseason camp coming to an end, Dantonio said most players will return home for a few days of rest and relaxation before beginning game preparation. Calhoun said his home in Middletown, New Jersey, is too far away for a quick visit - "It's not like it's just around the corner" - and will instead spend much of his free time in the film room studying Jacksonville State.

"I try to lead from behind and from the front," he explained. "Sometimes, you've got to let the young guys step up and see what they have and let them go, and then correct them. You don't want to be on their case at first because you don't know what they can or can't do.

"(Being yourself) is the best thing for these guys. They want you to be you. Act the way that you act. Don't try to be extra-aggressive because you now have the title. They want you to be the same person you were before you were elected. I feel like that's very important for this team because that's what brought us to where we are - being ourselves and not someone we aren't."

The biggest challenge for the captains, according to Calhoun, will be to make sure the Spartans capitalize on their success instead of shrinking under it. Michigan State hasn't won back-to-back Big Ten titles since 1965-66.

"That's the pressure right there, being successful," he said. "Not only that, but not having that drop. We want to be known as that Michigan State team that won it two consecutive years, three consecutive years, been to a (big) bowl game and did great things.

"It will definitely have a huge impact if we can come out and produce again this year. In history, Michigan State has had great years and then had letdown years. We don't want to be a part of that. We want to start a new legacy of teams that are going to consecutively be great. Can we stay at the top and can we keep moving forward?"

Drummond, Jackson and Calhoun emerged from a loaded field of candidates and that tells Dantonio that the vote wasn't a popularity contest and they were elected for "the right reasons" on and off the field.

"All three of these guys played as red-shirt freshmen," Dantonio said. "They didn't play as true freshmen. So, they were guys who played on the scout team, paid their dues, got stronger, acquired more football knowledge, played themselves into starting positions and did it the hard way. Nothing's been given to them. I think people appreciate and respect that.

"Every year at some point I ask how many guys have been captains on their high school football team and I would say probably 85 percent of our guys have been captains. So to be picked among your peers in that respect is powerful and makes a statement to their ability to lead."

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