A word that can be used to describe, or associate, a multitude of things: success, hard work, dedication, significance, power, or size.
But how does one strive for greatness? In most cases it’s not something that’s accomplished overnight, but it all starts with a desire, a determination.
In the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Raiders selected Michigan State linebacker Shilique Calhoun No. 75 overall. Coming out of college, Calhoun boasted all the characteristics one would consider ideal in an NFL player: size, strength, and speed. But, one thing that didn’t show up on tape was his internal drive, a willingness to do more.
While Calhoun’s 4.82 40-yard dash time is decent for a big man, the speed of the pro game is a different animal, and can result in a learning curve for rookies. Not only is the competition level at its highest, but understanding the terminology and knowledge of the game can be overwhelming at times. For Calhoun, he was ready for the challenge in 2016.
“Early on it was difficult because everything was moving so fast, you had to retain the knowledge fast, you had to go out there and show you understand it as well,” said Calhoun. “But as the season went on it started to slow down, and I started to become more comfortable.”
In a sport where talent is sifted out on a regular basis, it’s all about making adjustments and adapting to the game. Players dream of reaching the NFL level, but in order to succeed they have to ensure they take that next step.
“As the talent raises up, so will a true competitor, his level of play will raise up as well,” Calhoun added. “Luckily as the season went on I got better and better, and started understanding the speed, and started moving a lot quicker.”
While Calhoun made strides on the field, he made it a personal point of emphasis to learn from his peers and understand the game in the film room. With veteran players like linebacker Bruce Irvin – a Super Bowl champion – and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack on the roster, Calhoun has a unique opportunity to learn from some of the best in the business.
“There’s a handful of guys… but all the guys, as well as Bruce Irvin, Khalil Mack, ‘Big Jelly’ [defensive tackle Justin Ellis],” Calhoun said when asked about who has taken him under their wing. “Our whole room has a lot of comradery, so it was great to have those guys surrounding me, and kind of helping me understand how to play smart, fast, and physical.”
As the season carried on, Calhoun continued to soak up everything he could, in order to perfect his game on the gridiron. Unfortunately, his rookie campaign came to a halt in Week 11, when he suffered a knee injury that would prevent him from seeing action for the rest of the season. For any player, injuries take an obvious toll on their body, but the mental strain can be tiresome, especially for a rookie.
“It was a challenge,” Calhoun said with a sigh. ”To come into my rookie season with so many high hopes and so many aspirations, and for that to happen it was in a sense devastating. But at the same time, it kind of gave me more time to understand the game, understand my position.”
Not only did he take it as an opportunity to improve his Xs and Os knowledge, his rehabilitation also allowed him to step back and examine other aspects of his game. Calhoun entered the offseason ready to grow, in more ways than one, and it seems as though he’s accomplished that.
Following the conclusion of the 2016 season, the former Spartan made the decision to remove himself from the digital world, deleting his Instagram and Snapchat accounts, while also ceasing any activity on his Twitter profile.
“I think that social media really takes away from everyday interactions,” Calhoun stated. “Since football is my baby, it needs attention, I need to feed it, I need to feed my mind with knowledge, I need to nurture my body to make sure that I’m up to par with being able to play, and I need to be able to do it at a high level.”
As a rookie, he weighed in at roughly 250 pounds, but after some quality time in the weight room, he’s now a rock-solid 270. On the defensive line, players have to be able to contend with the big boys on the offensive line, and in order to succeed you have to be physical.
“It was my personal decision and I took it up with the head coach [Jack Del Rio], of course,” said Calhoun. “The reason for gaining weight was to be able to man the edge with a certain sense of strength, as well as agility. I still have my agility at this weight, and I have a lot more strength.”
As Calhoun prepares to enter his second season in the National Football League, he’s hungry to make a leap in his development, and believes the defense can too, if they continue to reach for greatness.
“It’s going to take focus, it’s going to take determination, and it’s going to take the will to want to be great.”