The timing couldn't have been much better for Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun to turn a corner -- both literally and figuratively.
Michigan State needed a rally in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against TCU and, as usual, relied on its defense for a lift. The Spartans' most talented defensive lineman, junior end William Gholston, was playing his final college game. Leading 14-13, Michigan State needed a stop in its own territory. Calhoun, already with a tackle for loss to his credit, beat TCU tackle Aviante Collins around the edge and dropped quarterback Trevone Boykin for his first career sack. Although TCU converted a long field-goal try, Michigan State only needed three points to answer and got the game-winning field goal from Dan Conroy moments later.
"Before the sack, I felt like I was underachieving," Calhoun told ESPN.com "I didn't feel like I played to the best of my abilities. But after that performance, it showed me I could go a lot harder and work more. It kind of catapulted me into this year.
"It's given me a lot of pride in my game, a little more than I had before."
The charismatic Calhoun doesn't seem like a guy who lacks confidence, but the bowl game gave him the boost he needed entering a crucial offseason. When Gholston announced a week later that he'd forgo his final season and enter the NFL draft, Calhoun went from a promising young reserve to a likely starter at end opposite Marcus Rush.
"There would be a lot more playing time," he said. "I’d be a little more exhausted. That was the first thought."
To prepare for a bigger role, Calhoun had to add weight in the winter. He's about 255 pounds these days and hopes to be around 260 for the season.
Calhoun knows the added weight can help his game, as long as it doesn't come with a cost.
"The best aspect of my game is my speed, so for me to lose that, it would be a crucial mistake," he said. "With this style of play at Michigan State, it's a great opportunity for me to make plays with my speed.
"As long as I can maintain it, I’ll continue to gain weight."
Calhoun typically lines up on the field side, where he has to cover more green against dual-threat quarterbacks and the like. Michigan State has built its defense around speed, and Calhoun fits the scheme extremely well.
The redshirt sophomore opened the spring listed as a starter on the depth chart, but several others are in the mix at end, including veteran Denzel Drone and young players like Jamal Lyles and Joel Heath.
"I want it to be a dogfight, I want to fight for my position," said Calhoun, a standout on the scout team in 2011 who finished with six tackles, 2.5 for loss, and two pass breakups last fall. "Competition makes me work a lot harder, and I don't want to ever stop working hard. There's guys who are working just as hard as me. I want them to keep pushing me because I want to keep working hard."
Calhoun sees a similar attitude throughout Michigan State's defense, which has ranked sixth and fourth nationally the past two seasons.
"The coaches, my teammates, we're all striving to get better," Calhoun said. "Last year was a good year, yes, but we need to be better ... until we’re No. 1, and even then, we're not going to stop trying to be the best."