William Gholston and Max Bullough aren't typical freshmen, so Michigan State sees no point in treating them that way.
While a large portion of Spartans freshman can be penciled in as redshirts for 2010, head coach Mark Dantonio has made it clear that neither Gholston nor Bullough will sit out this fall. Michigan State boasts excellent depth at linebacker, led by All-American Greg Jones, but barring a snag between now and Sept. 4, both Bullough and Gholston will be part of the mix.
"We want to make sure that we put them into situations where they can contribute on a consistent basis because you don't want to just take away a guy's year [of eligibility]," Dantonio said after a scrimmage earlier this week. "Those guys can play and have an impact."
Dantonio's words resonate with the two freshmen.
"It's an indescribable feeling to know that I have the opportunity to play as a freshman," Gholston told me Wednesday. "That's very seldom. It was rare for a freshman to play five, six years ago, so to have an opportunity, it’s great."
Why are the expectations so high for these two?
Both were decorated high school prospects with advanced physical skills and good family history. Bullough's father and two uncles played for Michigan State, and his grandfather, Hank, played for the Spartans and later served as the teams defensive coordinator. His other grandfather and another uncle played for Notre Dame. Gholston's cousin is New York Jets defensive end Vernon Gholston, the former Ohio State star who visited him this summer and provided a pass-rushing tutorial.
Gholston arrives at Michigan State as the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit, according to ESPN Recruiting, which listed him as the nation's No. 3 defensive end in the 2010 class.
A unique physical specimen who can play both end and linebacker, Gholston stands 6-foot-7 and has increased his weight to around 255 pounds in camp. He even got above 260 for a portion of practice, a major change after being listed at 237 on National Signing Day.
"I was at 265, didn’t know it and I ran like an ox," Gholston said, laughing.
The 6-3, 235-pound Bullough also drew strong reviews in high school -- ESPN Recruiting rated him as the nation's No. 4 inside linebacker in 2010 -- and helped himself by enrolling this spring and going through practice.
"In the spring, everything comes faster because it's mostly veterans out there," Bullough said. "Every day, I'd be thinking, 'What do I do here? What do I do on this play?' Now everything comes second nature to me. I'm trying to learn to play fast, play more aggressive, play meaner."
The mean part shouldn't be a problem, as classmate Tony Lippett found out in a recent practice.
Gholston didn't practice this spring, but he was a fixture at the football complex, attending almost all of the team's 15 workouts. The many trips from Detroit to East Lansing helped him absorb the defense, which will incorporate more 3-4 elements this fall.
"It's fun having Will out here finally," Bullough said. "I feel like I've been here forever, waiting for Will to get here. We're trying to work together and teach each other."
Added Gholston: "Most of the learning, I grasp that part. It’s just applying what I learned. I've got little spurts where I do the right thing. I need to do the right thing every single time."
Although they're in the same class, Bullough is doing most of the teaching so far.
"Max is a very smart player, very physical and very tough," Gholston said. "I've never seen a freshman, a football player the same age as me, have so much knowledge about the game and be so consistent in everything he does."
The Big Ten has had its share of outstanding linebacker tandems in recent years: Ohio State's James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, Penn State's Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor and Iowa's Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge, to name a few.
Michigan State hopes Gholston and Bullough mold a similar legacy together. The first steps begin this fall.
Bullough isn't taking the opportunity for granted.
"It is nice to hear," he said. "It’s all based on assuming -- I can only speak for myself -- I keep getting better each and every day. It's on my shoulders right now."