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Written by: Dave Fegley on Monday, June 17th, 2019
By Dave Fegley (6-17-19)
Less than a month after Southern Columbia’s offensive star picked his college destination, it’s time for the school’s all-time leading tackler to announce his landing spot. Cal Haladay has made trips to different schools in the eastern and central part of the country, but there was one that made a lasting first impression. A trip earlier this month to East Lansing felt different than the others. Michigan State was where he felt was the best fit. “It only took me one visit to know it was home. The coaching staff just immediately showed they want to see me succeed. The academics are good which is obviously important,” Haladay said.
The linebacker had other offers from a list including Michigan, Nebraska, and Pittsburgh. “I truthfully didn’t really let any other coaches know yet. I just sort of figured once the news is out it’s out,” said Haladay. With the decision now made, Haladay will be able to put all of his focus into his senior season at Southern Columbia. He will look to help guide the Tigers to a third consecutive PIAA State Championship. “We are looking for another big year out of Cal. He’s been a leader on the field since his freshman year and we are glad to have him for one final season. He has been great and we hope he can find a way to even elevate his game to a higher level which won’t be easy considering how well he has done in his first three years,” said Southern Columbia head coach Jim Roth.
Haladay burst onto the scene as a freshman by breaking the school record for tackles in a season with 151. Knowing the defensive talent that SCA has had come through the program during this dynasty run that has spanned over decades really shows what type of a talent the Tiger middle linebacker is. “Cal has been a force in the middle of our defense ever since the first game he played in. He has shown the ability to make tackles all over the field and keeps getting stronger. He just seems to have a knack for finding the football no matter where it is,” said Roth. Haladay added 109 tackles during his sophomore season and finished this past season with 131. Expecting another standout season, Haladay would become the first defensive player at Southern to be selected to the AP All-State team all four years. Teammates Julian Fleming and Gaige Garcia have each been chosen three years as well and would be the first two to earn the feat on the offensive side of the ball with another great year.
What makes Haladay standout is his ability to read the play almost immediately after the ball is snapped. “Obviously Cal’s statistics speak for themselves with the number of tackles he’s had the last three years plus the recognition he’s had statewide. But Cal has intangibles that can’t be taught,” said longtime SCA defensive coordinator Andy Mills. On top of his quickness, he has continued to fill out his frame by putting on more weight over the past year which will benefit him in the college ranks. “That’s my biggest priority going into this other than learning the defense. I’m coming in at 200 pounds, and I’m sure they’ll at least want me weighing 230,” said Haladay.
Already the school’s all-time leading tackler, Haladay has a shot at breaking the school’s sack record during his senior campaign to add to his legacy. He has totaled 17 thus far in his career and needs 13 more to break the school record. The numbers show his dominance, but he is even more valuable than any statistic can show. “He’s very good at slipping or avoiding blocks. When he finds a seam he accelerates through the lane he sees and is a very good one on one tackler. Most important from my perspective is that Cal is like having an extra coach on the field. He’s extremely focused and makes sure the proper formation is called and the defensive line is properly aligned,” Mills said.
Tiger fans will now potentially get to see Haladay go up against his high school teammate in Julian Fleming during a Big 10 matchup. “Who knows, maybe one day I will have to beat him in coverage or avoid having him tackle me. It’s awesome to have this opportunity, but I’m sure it could take some getting used to,” Fleming said. On May 31st Fleming announced his intent to play his college ball at Ohio State which drew a lot of mixed reactions across the country. The nation’s top ranked receiver has some simple advice for his current teammate about the experience he has had in the last month. “I think the biggest thing is not worrying about what other people think. Ultimately it is your decision and you can’t worry about how others feel about it. You need to do what you feel is best for you and your family,” said Fleming.
Haladay will be graduating high school in December and, like Fleming, will enroll to the university early. “Cal is strong in the classroom and has the discipline that it takes to handle playing a sport at a high level in college,” Roth said. This option gives scholarship players from “Power Five” conferences the ability to get a head start on their academics as well as participate in football practices during the Spring. “For me it was a no-brainer to get to school as soon as possible,” said Haladay, “All this will allow me to get acclimated to school along with getting a head start to the schedule, weight lifting program, and learning the role I’m going to be filling.”
Once Haladay leaves for East Lansing, he will be a part of Mark Dantonio’s program. The 63-year old head coach is entering his 13th season at Michigan State. During this time he has transformed the Spartan program into a perennial power and has won the second most games of any Big 10 coach during that time. “He’s an awesome guy. He immediately showed he cares a lot about his players. He is definitely a guy you want to play for,” said Haladay about his future head coach. Dantonio has guided the Spartans to Big 10 titles in 2010, 2013, and 2015.
The defensive coordinator at Michigan State is Mike Tressel, and Tressel is also the linebacker coach which can benefit Haladay. “They are some of the smartest football players in the country thanks to Coach Tressel. Being a smart players is just as important as being physical or talented,” Haladay said. Last season, the Spartans had the top run defense in the country by allowing just 77.9 yards per game. Giving up 17.2 points per game was good enough for eighth best in the country.
Now with the top two recruits decision’s being made, there are three other Tiger incoming seniors hoping to get the call for a big time offer after receiving a variety of offers from FCS programs as well as ones from the military academies. “I’m hoping they each get the offer they’re after. Just thinking about getting to play Big 10 football with or against some of my best friends would be more than I could’ve ever imagined,” Haladay said. Gaige Garcia, Max Tillett, and Preston Zachman has all received numerous offers to play at the next level, but are hoping to pick up a “Power Five” offer at some point during the summer. Garcia also has a long list of major college wrestling offers due to his success on the mat as a state champion.
The Southern Columbia coaching staff, with a nucleus that has been together for nearly four decades, knows that this upcoming senior class of Tigers is something that doesn’t come around often if ever to most schools. “We are fortunate to have a great group of skill position players. They have all shown that they are capable of playing at the next level. Cal, Julian, and Gaige have been starters since day one in our program,” Roth said. “At a school like ours it is very unusual to have this type of talent all in one class. We are very fortunate and are looking forward to seeing how they finish out their high school careers.” Southern will open their 2019 season for the entire country to see them on ESPN. The Tigers will travel down south to take on a South Carolina powerhouse program for a Sunday afternoon game in August.
For those unfamiliar with the “Power Five” term, it includes the schools in the ACC, BIG 10, BIG 12, PAC-12, and SEC conferences. Ironically, one of those Big 10 schools gave both Fleming and Haladay their very first offer. That call came from the Michigan Wolverines. Now over the next handful of years the two will matchup against the gridiron boys from Ann Arbor on an annual basis.
Haladay will also have the opportunity to be a part of some of college football’s longest standing rivalries, but the one against their fellow Great Lakes State foe is the one with the most hype. When Michigan State and Michigan battle each fall, they play for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Although the Wolverines won the 2018 meeting, the Spartans hold a 6-3 record against their rivals during this decade. Michigan State has made a bowl game each of those years and won five including the Rose Bowl in 2014. The Spartans also made the College Football Playoff in 2015.
Every year Michigan State takes on Penn State for the Land Grant Trophy. Since 1949, the Spartans have played the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame for the Megaphone Trophy. MSU has a rivalry with Indiana when they play for the Old Brass Spittoon dating back to the 1950’s. Ultimately though, Haladay is hoping to be a part of a team contending for a national championship during his college career. “It’s exciting for the fact that it reminds me a lot of where I came from. Southern Columbia is known for bringing home titles year after year. Making my mark at Michigan State is something I’m looking forward to in my football career,” said Haladay.
Before Haladay dons the green and white for the Spartans though, he is hoping to cap off his outstanding high school career with another state championship victory in his Tiger uniform. “At this point that’s the bar. The expectations are set for our whole team, the coaching staff, and even our entire community,” he said. Another state title would make Southern Columbia the first school in Pennsylvania history to win ten PIAA State Championships. If the Tigers are able to make history, Haladay will certainly have a large part in making it happen. “We’ve been blessed in our program with several outstanding middle linebackers, but the intangibles Cal has makes him one of the best we’ve ever had,” Mills said.
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