Staring down at the grass, sophomore defensive end William Gholston was holding back tears. The 6-foot-7, 280-pound lineman was not just MSU’s five-star recruit but a man who was experiencing more pain than any football game could cause him.
That pain started nine months ago when his grandmother passed away.
“She was my everything,” he said. “(She) still is, but God, I miss her a lot.”
He recalled some of the moments they shared.
Going to her house after a game in high school and having her read the press clippings out loud to him was one of his favorites, he said. Another was cooking her Thanksgiving dinner and staying late just to talk for a few more hours.
But for all the beautiful, lifelong memories, there was one not-so-pleasant memory that was choking him up now: He was never able to get her to Spartan Stadium.
“I kind of feel like it’s not fair she can’t be at the games,” said Gholston, whose grandmother underwent back surgeries that made sitting among 70,000 fans impossible. “Everybody else’s family is here, but the one lady I really, really, really want to be here to see me play (can’t be).”
It’s something that motivates him as he plays out the rest of the season, he said.
With his grandmother’s spirit accompanying him every step, Gholston, who joined Charles Rogers and T.J. Duckett as the only five-star recruits in MSU history, is having a promising first year as a full-time starter.
He has recorded 17 tackles this season, and against Ohio State, he got his first sack and three tackles for a loss. That is considered to be his breakout game by many, including his former high-school coach at Detroit Southeastern, Donshell English.
English, who played defensive end at Eastern Michigan, had the privilege to coach Gholston as a starter for two years, and during that time promised him he would be the No. 1 recruit in the state at the end of his senior year.
After a monster season of 27 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and two blocked punts, Rivals.com ranked Gholston the best recruit in Michigan and No. 21 in the country.
But even more so than being a major threat on the field, the Spartans have a player with great character, and one that truly is a star in the making, English said
“The sky is the limit on his potential,” he said “He’s going to be everything they’re asking for; he’s going to always give 110 percent … He’s well-spoken (and) charismatic. He gets along with everyone (and) never gets in trouble. He’s going to be a great ambassador for MSU.”
Gholston said he was very close to choosing Michigan and had offers from top programs such as Alabama, Oklahoma and USC.
However, he went with the team coming off a 6-7 season.
He credited the coaching staff, especially MSU head coach Mark Dantonio, for being straightforward and getting his name right — something the Michigan coaches failed to do, calling the five-star recruit “Tom” — but went back to his grandmother as a main influence on his decision.
“(She) was definitely a big deal,” he said. “(She’s) why I liked Michigan and Michigan State.”
For English, he said Gholston has become “like a son” to him, and they talk on the phone constantly. He tells Gholston to play with emotion because football is one sport where emotion can carry you to success.
“He was a good kid,” English said. “And his smile is contagious. Every time he walks in a room, he always has a smile on his face, and he has been through some things.”
Still talking about his grandmother, Gholston looked up and asked to change the subject before the actual waterworks began. The smile returned and he said one more thing.
“This season is really emotional for me,” Gholston said. “I still get upset, and I take it out on everybody else. It still plays a big role in (how I play).”