Editor’s note: In June 1917, the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives invited Michigan back into the league, increasing membership to 10 and eventually spawning the iconic “Big Ten” nickname. One hundred years later, Land of 10 will spend the summer looking at the history of America’s legendary conference and its teams.
Michigan State wasn’t part of the original conference we know as the Big Ten. The Spartans replaced the departed University of Chicago in 1949 and became a full member in football in 1953. With that in mind, Land of 10 is unveiling our selections of the top 25 Michigan State football players since the Spartans began competing in the Big Ten. Players were evaluated solely on their performance at Michigan State.
We start with 25-21.
25. Flozell Adams, tackle (1994-97)
Flozell “The Hotel” Adams was as intimidating a football player as you’ll come across. But despite standing 6-foot-7 and weighing more than 330 pounds, he possessed unnaturally nimble feet. Whatever position he played in the early years of the Nick Saban era, he excelled.
Adams got his opportunity to start at right tackle as a redshirt sophomore and ran with it for two seasons. In 1996, he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors for his contributions to a Michigan State team that averaged 399.6 yards of total offense, good for second in the Big Ten.
Then came the all-important switch to left tackle for Adams’ senior season and the added responsibility of protecting quarterback Todd Schultz’s blind side. Adams paved the way for standout running backs Sedrick Irvin and Marc Renaud, posting 37 pancakes as the Spartans put up 199.5 rushing yards per game. He earned first team All-America honors and was named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year.
Michigan State never won more than seven games in a season during Adams’ time in East Lansing, but the mammoth tackle played a massive part in Saban establishing what he wanted his program to look like on offense. After five NFL Pro Bowl selections with the Dallas Cowboys, Adams took his rightful place in the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014.
24. Clinton Jones, running back (1964-66)
Get ready for several names from this golden era of Michigan State football. Clinton Jones was the primary — though far from the only — option in the Spartans’ backfield as they rolled to a 19-1-1 record in the 1965 and 1966 seasons, complete with a pair of Big Ten titles and shares of two national championships.
Jones eased his way into the rotation with 350 yards and 4 touchdowns as a sophomore before breaking out in 1965. He rushed for 787 yards and 10 scores in his junior campaign, including a 4-touchdown performance at Iowa that tied the Big Ten record.
That season brought Jones first-team All-Big Ten and first-team All-America honors, both of which he repeated as a senior when he ran for 784 yards and 6 touchdowns. His numbers might have been even more prolific had there not been four other backs on the roster with at least 41 carries. Regardless, his greatness was recognized.
Said Spartans coach Duffy Daugherty of the man who was also an All-American on the track, “I wouldn’t trade Jones for any halfback in the country. He’s the greatest back at eluding and breaking tackles I have ever seen. He has remarkable balance, speed and power.”
After a long wait, Jones finally joined three of his teammates in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015. Those teammates will be named later.
23. Shilique Calhoun, defensive end (2012-15)
Will Shilique Calhoun pan out in the NFL as an outside linebacker? That remains to be seen. But along the Michigan State defensive line as a three-year starter, he wreaked havoc and cemented a legacy for years to come.
Calhoun got better as an edge rusher each year he started, going from 7 1/2 sacks to 8 as a junior to 10 1/2 as a senior. But he may have been at his most exciting during his sophomore year, when he took two fumbles back for touchdowns and brought an interception 56 yards back for a score. He left Michigan State second in program history with 27 career sacks and fifth with 4 fumble recoveries in a season.
Calhoun also departed as one of the program’s most decorated players: three-time first-team All-Big Ten, three-time second-team All-America and Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2013. But he’ll surely be remembered for how his play contributed to one of the most magical eras in Michigan State history.
In Calhoun’s three years as a starter, Michigan State went 36-5 and 22-2 in conference play while winning two Big Ten titles, a Rose Bowl and a Cotton Bowl. Not too shabby for a kid who came in as a low 3-star recruit.
22. Greg Jones, linebacker (2007-10)
Things didn’t quite pan out for Greg Jones after college, as he found himself out of the NFL after two seasons and 35 tackles. But pro performance shouldn’t overly dictate one’s impression of a college athlete, and Jones was a menace during his time with Michigan State.
Very few linebackers have ever left Michigan State as accomplished as Jones. His 465 tackles rank third in program history, his 46 1/2 tackles for loss rank second and his 16 1/2 sacks put him ninth. He followed up first-team Freshman All-American honors by earning first-team All-Big Ten recognition the next three seasons, and a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year nod from the media in 2009.
Three players in Michigan State history have received back-to-back consensus first-team All-America honors: Bubba Smith, George Webster and Jones, who made it in 2009 and 2010. Not bad company at all. He was instrumental in leading the Spartans to prominence under coach Mark Dantonio. After spurning the NFL draft and returning for his senior season, Jones led Michigan State to its first of four Big Ten titles under Dantonio.
Jones may not have blown people away with his raw ability, but few showed the consistency that he did throughout his career.
21. Todd ‘T.J.’ Duckett, running back (1999-2001)
He goes by Todd now. Who wants to be the one to argue about it? T.J. Duckett left a legacy at Michigan State as a bruising back who could shed tacklers or carry them along with him — no surprise when you remember that most teams wanted him at linebacker. He was, after all, arguably the best in the country.
But Saban offered him a shot on offense and he ran with it. He provided the Citrus Bowl champion Spartans with 606 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns before Saban bolted for LSU and was replaced by Bobby Williams. He then became the featured back the next two seasons, rushing for a combined 2,773 yards.
It was never going to be an easy task to live up to the reputation of his brother, Tico, who finished his career with more rushing yards (4,212 from 1989-92). But Duckett did his damage in just three seasons before heading to the NFL draft in 2002, where he was selected No. 18 overall by the Atlanta Falcons.
Leaving Michigan State with 3,379 rushing yards, 29 touchdowns and a second team All-Big Ten selection to his name, Duckett won’t be remembered as one of the Spartans’ most decorated stars. But in terms of his ability to run over would-be tacklers and make something out of nothing, he was second to none.