How Michigan State football's Cal Haladay emerged to start at linebacker

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

EAST LANSING — Cal Haladay trotted onto Ryan Field on Friday night with no gloves, no wraps, no elbow pads. It's one of the big reasons Mel Tucker calls him “a throwback guy.”

The Michigan State football coach started using a nickname his teammates gave Haladay: “The Body Man.”

“I guess they think I hit hard or something," the redshirt freshman said. "I'm not sure. But I like it. I think it's pretty funny.

Michigan State linebacker Cal Haladay, top, tackles Northwestern wide receiver Stephon Robinson Jr. during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Evanston, Ill., Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Michigan State won 38-21.
Michigan State linebacker Cal Haladay, top, tackles Northwestern wide receiver Stephon Robinson Jr. during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Evanston, Ill., Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Michigan State won 38-21.

It also was a sign the linebacker had made an impression on Tucker. Enough that, after the Spartans’ second scrimmage of preseason camp, Haladay started working in the starting group in the final weeks before the opener. Enough to beat out returning starter Noah Harvey and 2020 backup Chase Kline to start at one of the two linebacker spots in the Spartans’ 38-21 win at Northwestern.

“The coaches took a shot at me, and they threw me in there,” Haladay recalled Wednesday. “And that's kind of how it happened.”

Playing alongside Tennessee transfer Quavaris Crouch, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound native of Elysburg, Pennsylvania, made six tackles with a pass breakup. It wasn't only his first collegiate start but also his first snaps on defense, though Haladay emerged as a special teams contributor a year ago in games against Indiana, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State toward the end of the season.

“He's just old school, out there just finding the ball,” Tucker said last month. “He plays off blocks. I mean, he's a rugged cat in there. I like him. He's a good football player.”

Crouch had seven tackles at the other linebacker spot in Tucker's 4-2-5 defense. Kline had three tackles playing alongside Michigan transfer Ben VanSumeren as the second linebacker grouping, while the lone stop by Harvey — MSU’s leading returning tackler — came on the final play of the game.

Catawissa (Pa.) Southern Columbia linebacker Cal Haladay
Catawissa (Pa.) Southern Columbia linebacker Cal Haladay

Haladay credited the man he supplanted as starter with helping him be prepared for his new role.

“We got a great LB room, a lot of older guys to look up to, like Harvey. He's a really good leader, and he helped me learn everything and get the defense down,” Haladay said. “And then coming to practice every day to compete, that was the biggest thing. And you gotta study up on the defense so you know what you're doing to play fast and play confident.”

What a grab

Michigan State wide receiver Tre Mosley (17) practices Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021 at the team's practice facility in East Lansing.
Michigan State wide receiver Tre Mosley (17) practices Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021 at the team's practice facility in East Lansing.

Tre Mosely suffered a right leg injury in the Spartans’ first game last season and struggled to recover. He returned to play the final three games — startingthe last two — and finished with seven catches for 71 yards.

On Friday, after a tight battle with Montorie Foster and several other young receivers, Mosley was starting again alongside Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor. And the 6-2, 195-pound redshirt sophomore from Pontiac nearly equaled his numbers for all of 2020, grabbing five passes from quarterback Payton Thorne for 59 yards.

“At some point in time, you're gonna have to face adversity. So it's all about how you attack it,” Mosley said. “I could have just folded and been upset and get my feelings hurt because I was injured and banged up last year, or I could have kept my head straight, cheering on my teammates and just rehabilitate and be ready for it when my time came.”

One catch in particular stood out: a deep corner throw from Thorne that Mosley dove for, hauling in a 26-yard gain over tight coverage from Northwestern’s Rod Heard II. Mosley got initial separation, then splayed out and pulled in the catch with his right hand (though a post-play penalty by Jarrett Horst moved the ball back 15 yards).

“It was crazy,” Mosley said. “I was just running the route, and Payton trusted me. He put the ball out there in the area and just gave me a chance to go make a play on it. I did what I could, and luckily the ball just landed right in my hands.”

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State football's Cal Haladay emerges at linebacker