Michigan State resident Cal Haladay has maintained strong ties with Penn State since returning to his home state

EAST LANSING — Cal Haladay grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, about 90 minutes from Penn State.

Michigan redshirt linebacker father Greg was an all-American wrestler for the Nittany Lions. He has three siblings – one who has already graduated from Penn State and two who are still studying there.

Haladay will be close again when Michigan State (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) plays No. 11 Penn State (9-2, 6-2) at Beaver Stadium on Saturday (4 p.m. FS1).

“It certainly creates a little interesting dynamic. … They sure all wear the green,” Haladay said of his family, “because they support me through everything even though they go there.”

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Haladay was a four-time first-team All-State selection while starring at Powerhouse Southern Columbia High School in Catawissa, Pennsylvania. The former three-star recruit never received an offer from Penn State but will go into Saturday as a key player for the Spartans.

Now in his second season as a starter, Haladay ranks first in the Big Ten with 109 tackles and also has 10.5 tackles to a loss, 1.5 sacks, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. He was named a Freshman All-American and Peach Bowl defensive MVP last season as the Spartans ended the year 11-2 by beating Pittsburgh in Atlanta, and is returning to his home state in a role that he state that he hadn’t imagined before arriving in Michigan.

“That’s frankly crazy,” Haladay said. “I’ve always wanted to play football and I ended up here and I’m very happy about it. I’m glad I got the opportunity to come out here and play football and also to be in the position I’m in. It’s just fun, I’m just out there having fun, I’m not gonna lie. I just play the sport I love.”

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Haladay has recorded double-digit tackles in six games this season, including a career-high 19 in a win over Rutgers on Nov. 12, the best Spartan since 2004. That performance led to his being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for the second week in a row.

“What gives the guys the best opportunity is the intangibles and Cal has those,” said coach Mel Tucker. “He’s tough, he’s disciplined, he’s selfless, he loves football, he’s someone who works at it. He’s got a really good attitude and he’s got a really good work ethic and he’s also talented. He’s getting better and better, he’s still developing. His best football is still ahead of him. Football is a game for tough people, physically and mentally, and it is.”

Haladay signed with Michigan State before coach Mark Dantonio abruptly retired in February 2020 and was replaced by Tucker. He appeared in four games on special teams as a true freshman during the pandemic-altered season, including a loss at Penn State, with no fans allowed. On Saturday there will be a very different atmosphere at the 106,000-seat Beaver Stadium, Haladay knows.

“It’s quite the environment,” he said. “I’ve been to their whiteout games, I’ve been to other games. I think the coaches know what it’s going to be like. It’s a crazy environment, it sure gets loud because they always bring a good crowd and they always rock this place. Everything about it is just loud.”

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Haladay expects a lot of support from the crowd from family, friends and people from his hometown. He also downplayed personal ties to Penn State.

“I think it’s my home state or whatever,” Haladay said, “but I play for Michigan State, so I’m going to do whatever it takes to help the team win, and that’s what it comes down to.”

Michigan State, which remains shorthanded from injuries and suspensions, gambled away a 17-point lead in the second half of the second-half double overtime loss to Indiana. That means the Spartans need an upset win at Penn State on Saturday to add up to six wins and qualify for the Bowl, though Tucker and players have repeatedly said there’s not much talk of a postseason offer.

“We have business to attend to, and that’s what we’ve talked about — stay focused on Penn State,” Haladay said. “That’s all that really matters now until Saturday.”

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