(Photo credit: WILLIAM GHOLSTON (# 2) will be missed at MSU. – Dan Graschuck photo)
EAST LANSING – Just think the Michigan State Spartans came into the 2012 college football campaign with a noteworthy 14 games home winning streak.
They won the Legends Division and played in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis last season and coming into this season the Spartans were by all accounts the team to beat in the Big Ten.
Well none of that was meant to be. All the close games that the Spartans won over the past three years turned around and they lost them in 2012. The Spartans did win their Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl game against TCU to close 7-6, and, put a positive ending to an otherwise disappointing season.
As MSU and its coaching staff, following its season ending bowl win, tried to put a positive spin on a season that fell short of expectations, their three best players, all juniors declared for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Running back Le’Veon Bell and two Detroiters – tight end Dion Sims and defensive end William Gholston – all announced that they will forgo their senior seasons. It marks the first time Michigan State has had multiple underclassmen enter the NFL Draft since 1999, when defensive end Dimitrius Underwood and running back Sedrick Irvin left East Lansing.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare themselves eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft is Tuesday, Jan. 15.
Full disclosure: Being Michigan State alum, sure this hurts, for purely selfish reasons. Bell would have been in the Heisman discussion, Gholston would have been up for all the college defensive awards finals and simply put all three would have been preseason All-Americans. The fact of the matter is the Spartans would be a better team with them returning.
However, I applaud all three. Football is unlike any other sport and if a player can get a quality shot at the pros, he has to take it. The risk of injury is all too real in this rough and tumble game these men engage in for free in college. Players of their caliber cannot jeopardize their future by leaning on sentiment and succumbing to others’ opinions.
As much as this hurts, kudos to all three for not yielding to the pressure to comeback and help good old Sparty. Note: Bell, Gholston and Sims all earned All-Big Ten honors in 2012.
Gholston, a former Detroit Southeastern High star and Michigan Chronicle PSL Defensive Player of the Year, earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media for a second-straight year after leading the Spartans in tackles for loss (13 for 49 yards), sacks (4.5 for 24 yards) and pass break-ups (10). His 10 pass break-ups ranked first among NCAA FBS defensive linemen.
The 6-foot-7, 278-pound Gholston was named Defensive Player of the Game after recording a season-high nine tackles, including a 5-yard sack, in MSU’s one-point win over TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
“He’s an active player, who consistently added a physical presence at the point of attack,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. “Without question, Will played one of his best games of the season against TCU.
“Will is an extremely caring person and had a very tough time personally making this decision. When he made the commitment to first become a Spartan, he never wavered throughout the (recruiting) process. For that, I will be forever grateful and stand beside him throughout his life. We will miss Will as both a player and person as he moves into this next phase of his life.”
Said Gholston: “After talking things over with my family and some of my teammates, I decided the timing was right to make the move. I believe that I’m ready to play at the next level. I am very excited about the challenges that the future holds and I promise to always represent the University with class, dignity, and professionalism.”
A native Detroiter, at 6-foot-5, 280 pounds, Sims tied for third on the team with 36 receptions for 475 yards (13.2 avg.) and two scores. His receptions totals are tied for the third-highest single-season total by a Spartan tight end, trailing only Chris Baker who had 40 catches in 2001 and 38 in 1999.
“I think I can impress the pro scouts with my end-line blocking and provide a big target over the middle,” Sims explained. “With my size and athleticism, I can create mismatches in the passing game against linebackers and safeties.
Said Dantonio: “Dion is a big target with great hands. With his combination of size and power, he is difficult to bring down, so he gains a lot of yards after the catch. He’s also a much improved run-blocker.”
The 6-foot-2, 237-pound Bell rushed 382 times for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns. “This was the hardest decision of my life,” he said. “It’s difficult to leave my teammates and coaches as well as Spartan Nation, but I couldn’t pass on pursuing my dream and the opportunity to change my mom’s life.”
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII