The modern NFL Draft began in 1967. That year, Spartans were selected with the Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 8 picks. Things have changed since then, but MSU has had at least one player selected in every NFL Draft since that first common draft, and 2013 will continue that streak.
Gholston was an early entrant to the NFL Draft, declaring after his true junior season.
He was the first "five-star" player to sign with MSU since the star system came about, choosing MSU over the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, USC and others in 2010, and his signing was a prelude to a somewhat historic run at MSU.
Gholston came in with a lot of hype and saw the field as a true freshman. He recorded 13 tackles and five QB hurries in 10 games before a season-ending shoulder injury. MSU would go on to win a share of its first Big Ten championship since 1990 with an 11-2 record.
He became a starter his sophomore year and wrecked havoc, recording 70 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and five sacks and was named second team All-Big Ten. There was some controversy, though. In a win over Michigan, Gholston received personal fouls for twisting the helmet of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and later punching an offensive lineman in a retaliation move. He was given a one-game suspension — and a reputation that has followed him. As someone who covered that season, Gholston has never come across as a bad kid. I can't recall any other similar incidents in his career. The Spartans would post a 10-2 regular season record, winning the first-ever Legends division title, but they fell to Wisconsin in the first Big Ten Championship Game. Against an SEC opponent in Georgia for the Outback Bowl, Gholston had a breakout game with seven tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks, a fumble recovery and pass defelction in a triple-overtime win over the Bulldogs.
So he headed into his junior year with a lot of hype after the Georgia game, being put on the watch lists for all sorts of awards. He may not have "lived up to the hype," but he still had a solid season, recording 59 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks en route to second team All-Big Ten by the media and honorable mention by the coaches. Part of that was also due to MSU playing a number of dual-threat quarterbacks and defensive ends being told to contain rather than straight rush. MSU posted a 7-6 record, but the MSU defense was ranked in the top 10 in most categories. Gholston decided to forgo his final season for the NFL.
Physically, Gholston is an absolute freak. That's probably another reason people feel he hasn't lived up to the hype, because the physical tools set the bar so high. He never earned All-American status, but he's able to leave after three years and get drafted relatively high. So that's still a successful career.
For as great as his physical tools are, his skillset is probably lacking a bit. He doesn't have a ton of moves, typically relying on either his strength or speed. He was also inconsistent, disappearing at times, and there are worries about his stamina. Because he's so tall, his pad level can get high and he loses leverage.
He played in a 4-3 defense at MSU that loved to blitz and put pressure on opposing offensive lines. But the defensive line itself didn't always produce as much pressure as it should have in 2012 after losing second-round pick Jerel Worthy from the year before. Many believe Gholston has a great body and skillset for a 3-4 defense, as he's a terrific run-stopper. He could probably play linebacker in a 3-4 defense, as well.
There are concerns about the family legacy. Gholston is the cousin Vernon Gholston, the former No. 6 pick in 2008 who quickly washed out of the league.
William is a kid who has overcome a lot, bouncing around Detroit as a kid between the homes of relatives and coaches and even sleeping in cars. He also walked away from a pretty bad car crash in May 2012 because he was wearing his seatbelt. But he got through the difficult times and succeeded on and off the field at MSU, again, never getting in any notable trouble outside of that 2011 Michigan game that continues to follow him.
I think he'll be remembered by MSU fans for that game — for good and bad reasons (He had a great game other than the penalties) — and the Georgia game. MSU measured up against the SEC in that Outback Bowl, and Gholston was the posterboy for that Big Ten pride. His sack on third down set up a field attempt by Georgia that was blocked and won the game for MSU. He'll also be remembered as the first "big-time" recruit to choose MSU since the star system was created.
There are things that jump off the charts for Gholston — his physical tools, for one — but also legitimate concerns — consistency and stamina. He'll get a shot in the NFL to prove those people wrong and change the family legacy and his reputation.