Despite all coming in as outside linebackers, they talked about finding a way to all play at the same time during their careers at Michigan State and making an impact.
Shilique Calhoun, Joel Heath, Damon Knox and Lawrence Thomas had similar conversations that summer. The four defensive linemen discussed being the front four of the Spartans’ defense and being “the guys.”
It was the type of conversation many of the freshmen had that summer and a talking point that now is close to being reality.
”We definitely talked about it a lot as freshman like, ‘Yeah, we can’t wait until we get on the field as starters all together,’” cornerback Trae Waynes said. “Now, it’s that time and we gotta make plays.”
The time has come for a large part of the 2011 recruiting class, especially defensively. With the season less than two weeks away, the 2011 recruiting class accounts for eight of the projected 11 defensive starters for the Spartans.
Taiwan Jones was the lone member of that group not to redshirt in his first season and thus will be the lone senior from the 2011 class. He said he knew there was something special about the class when it first arrived on campus.
”I knew we were all going to play at some time together,” he said. “I’m glad it’s happening now because we always talk about in our class that we have something to prove and we want to be one of the best to come through Michigan State.
”I feel like we worked hard enough along with the other guys that are on the field with us and I feel like we can do something special.”
The fact that such a large percentage of the class brought in during the 2011 cycle is now in this spot speaks both the recruiting at Michigan State, but also the talent. Of the eight, six were rated three stars by Scout.com, spare the five-star Thomas and four-star Heath.
Safety R.J. Williamson, who noted he was only rated three stars, said it is a credit to the coaches seeing more than just the talent of a player, but the drive to be even better and bringing solid character.
”They recruit a great group of guys,” he said. “They know what they are looking for and the type of guys they want on their team, not just talent, but great individuals.
”These guys, everybody here is like family – family away from family. They want to see you do your best and that is the reason why I came here.”
The element of family is something Harris said extends deeply among the players that arrived in 2011.
”Everyone’s family is so close,” he said. “You just don’t get that everywhere, where you take 20, 30 random guys from all across the country and you bring them together at one location, add in their families, their friends and everyone knows each other and we have created one big family here.
”It’s crazy that Coach Dantonio and the coaches were able to do that, go out and get quality guys that they knew they would need to be successful.”
There definitely has been plenty of success in the past few years at Michigan State and much of it has been seen by the players from that class. Their redshirt freshman season featured an 11-win season. While 2012 was a step back, the 2013 season ended with a Rose Bowl win, in which Jones, Harris and Waynes played big roles. Now, as a collective group, they want to build on that success and up the level once again.
“I was just talking to Lawrence Thomas about that before camp started,” Williamson said. “We were talking about this is our year, this is our time. It’s our time to shine.
”That’s expected. Every class thinks next year the class under me will be saying the same thing.”
But all of that harkens back to the summer of 2011, when the conversations first began about making an impact during their time in East Lansing.
”I thought coming in we had high aspirations,” Harris said. “Over time, we learned about one another and once that redshirt year went out of the way, we decided that we were going to be the class to make a difference come last season and come this season.
”It’s just great to see all the guys that I came in with that are getting an opportunity to get out there with me and we are just trying to make the most of our opportunity here.”