WILLIAM GHOLSTON LIKES TO PRETEND HE'S A DIFFERENT PERSON. ON THE FIELD, HE IS A 6' 7", 275-pound defensive end with All-America talent, first-round draft potential and a knack for making his way into the opposing backfield. Off the field he's a self-professed "big kid" with a runaway imagination, love of family and commitment to mentorship. On stage, though, he can be anyone he wants.
"The thing I love about [acting] is you get to transform into somebody else," says Gholston, who began taking theater classes at Michigan State during the 2011 season. "You can turn something imaginary into real life."
Gholston's real life would be fantasy for many. The former five-star recruit out of Detroit's Southeastern High chose the Spartans after receiving offers from Alabama, Oklahoma and USC, among other elite programs. He saw action in 10 games as a true freshman in 2010 before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, then earned a starting spot as a sophomore and finished with 70 tackles (16 for loss) and five sacks. His best performance was his last, when he tied a Michigan State bowl record with five tackles for loss, including two sacks, in the Spartans' 33--30 triple-overtime win against Georgia in the Outback Bowl.
Perhaps more memorable, though, and certainly not in a good way, was his performance two and a half months earlier against in-state rival Michigan. Gholston earned some Internet infamy after cameras caught him twisting Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson's helmet, then punching Michigan lineman Taylor Lewan in the face mask. The Spartans did not publicly punish Gholston for the incident, the first and only time the player had generated any sort of trouble on or off the field, but the Big Ten suspended him for one game.
"I've apologized, I've done all I can do," Gholston says. "You have to take the criticism and keep going."
Gholston was drawn to Michigan State because of the program's "family atmosphere" and the continuity of the defensive staff, which has remained intact heading into coach Mark Dantonio's sixth season in East Lansing. That consistency makes life easier on players like Gholston, who can focus on perfecting their games instead of learning new plays and schemes after coaching changes. But Gholston's respect for his coaches is about more than X's and O's.
"I want them to help me grow as a man, and that's really what they're doing right now," Gholston says of the Spartans' staff, whose support for him has never wavered.
"He's extremely motivated to be the best," says Dantonio. "He's got leadership qualities. He's a great young person. He's fun to be around. We're going to benefit from those [strengths]."
Gholston is looking to pay that guidance forward as a member of the veteran cast. "We try to reach out to the younger players, to let them know the tradition we have at Michigan State," he says. "We can only be as strong as the weakest link in our chain, and we don't want any weak links."
What Gholston does want is a Big Ten title, and, just as he gets to do on stage, a chance to transform his persona.