COMMENTARY | It's been a steady climb for the Michigan State Spartans defense the past couple years.
Players like cornerback Jeremy Ware and linebacker Greg Jones helped make that so. The two former Spartans, both of whom are in the NFL, helped set the tone for a defense that was once average at best.
However, William Gholston, Denicos Allen and Max Bullough have stepped in, making the transition from the Jones and Ware days appear seamless. Michigan State will need the trio to anchor the defense, which features a constantly-improving secondary, to build on last years' success and move toward a Rose Bowl.
Gholston burst onto the scene as a heavily-recruited five-star high school star. At 6-foot-7, 280 pounds, he's one of the most physically-imposing defenders in the Big Ten. He ended October 2011 on a high-note, recording a career-high 15 tackles in a 24-3 loss to Nebraska in Lincoln. He immediately followed with 14 tackles the next week in a 31-24 victory over Minnesota.
He's hard to stop. He's menacing and aggressive -- and Michigan's Taylor Lewan found that out this past season in a 28-14 loss to Michigan State.
Former Spartans great Courtney Hawkins had nothing but praise for Gholston after the win. The young defensive end let his emotions take control when he punched Lewan's helmet. However, Hawkins couldn't speak highly enough of Gholston's intensity. Hawkins didn't like the punch, but Gholtson will be a high-motor contributor Michigan State can rely on in the coming years (as long as he's in East Lansing, that is).
"...The kid isn't a dirty player," Hawkins said. "He plays the game the way you want a player to play the game. He plays hard. Sometimes your emotions get the best of you, but that's why they wear helmets and pads, not skirts, so to speak..."
Bullough, like Gholston, is another fierce defender with a knack for hard hits. The 6-3, 245-pound fourth-generation Spartans football player learned from Jones as a freshman and led Michigan State with 74 tackles in the 2011 regular season.
His Spartans heritage is more than enough motivation to be a leader on defense. Bullough recently spoke of a mural in a meeting room at Michigan State's facilities which depicts a couple familiar former program greats -- his father, Shane Bullough, and his uncle, Chuck Bullough. He doesn't necessarily need a reminder, but seeing those faces likely elevates his play.
"It's fun," Max Bullough said. "Everyone always talks about pressure this, expectations that. But those expectations are already on myself because I put them there. It's cool to have those names on the wall and be a part of something bigger."
Family history or not, the Spartans can expect Max Bullough's best each Saturday.
Allen literally hopped his way onto the Big Ten's radar with his acrobatic sacks and tackles. His agility is a valuable asset in the middle of the field, but his speed makes him an all-around threat to runners, receivers and quarterbacks. As a sophomore, Allen tallied 69 tackles and quickly became known as a run-stuffer.
The Spartans' trio of juniors -- Max Bullough, Gholston and Allen -- will be the nucleus of a sturdy defensive forefront. The team's success is dependent on their success.
Adam Biggers has followed NCAA football for over 20 years, specifically the Michigan State Spartans. He can be found on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
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