|Hank Spencer was more than
ready to start college, and soon was ready to start at linebacker
for Mount Union.
Photo by Dan Poel, d3photography.com
By Ryan Tipps
It’s 8:30 a.m. during finals week at Mount Union, and there’s only one guy in the weight room.
No, he isn’t putting off studying for exams. After all, he carries a 3.98 GPA and has been on the Dean’s List each semester in college.
Being dedicated athletically as well as academically is one of the many things linebacker Hank Spencer does to stay ahead of the curve. He admits that it can be difficult without careful planning.
“There are times when you leave for class at 9 in the morning and you don’t get back from practices and all that stuff until 9 at night,” the 21-year-old computer science major said. “You have to really plan your day out and make sure that you take stuff with you. You want to be able to get stuff done with what little time you do have.”
Spencer entered Mount Union in the spring of 2012, having graduated from his Indiana high school a semester early. Both of his parents are teachers and coaches and early on taught him the value of balancing his studies and sports. In middle school, he began taking core high school classes, which helped him get in front of others his age.
“I’ve always been a semester ahead of where I was supposed to be,” Spencer said.
Current Purple Raiders head coach Vince Kehres was defensive coordinator when Spencer was being recruited. Kehres saw video of a player who had good athleticism, who could run and was agile, a player who was physical but could play in space, too.
As Spencer’s interest grew, it became apparent to Kehres that the linebacker wasn’t just looking to attend Mount, rather he was looking to attend immediately.
“I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, we could get this guy in January, and he could definitely be ready to play as a freshman.’ There was a sense of urgency to get him recruited then,” Kehres said.
Spencer’s jump start with spring practice paid off. He played in every game his freshman season, and started the second half of the season en route to earning honorable mention All-OAC honors. That season, he said he had All-American Charles Dieuseul to look up and learn from.
“He helped get me up to speed and had been like a big brother to me when he was here at Mount,” Spencer said.
Spencer is “extremely competitive,” Kehres said. “I think he has a real strong desire to succeed and do well. That’s part of the family he’s been raised in. …
“Athletics and competition has been a big part of his upbringing. He’s fueled by that.”
Teammates surprised – and impressed – Spencer when the linebacker came back for his second season. For the first time in the program’s history, the Purple Raiders picked a sophomore as one of their team captains.
His leadership had become apparent. His smarts both on the field and off of it were respected. He quickly got a handle on team concepts and was able to solve problems and build off of what the veteran players were instilling.
“He’s almost like a coach on the football field,” Kehres said of Spencer, who was given the Elite 89 honor at last year’s Stagg Bowl for having the highest GPA of any player in Salem. “The other guys appreciate that and respect that and know that if he’s making an adjustment and if he’s calling something out, they know it’s accurate. He started doing that as a young player, even as a freshman. He would pick things up very quickly. He wasn’t afraid to go ahead and make checks that he knew were correct and point things out. His teammates respected that about him. That helped lead to him being a captain as a sophomore.”
This season, as a junior, Spencer is again a captain and is second on the team in tackles with 60, while also contributing two sacks and an interception. He’s a leader on a defense that let only two teams all season score more than once in a game and that has a tradition of shutting down even high-powered offenses.
Mount Union coaches “bring people to the school who understand the process and understand what it takes to be a champion,” Spencer said. “They understand that most of the time we’re not going to come in here and be able to step onto the field and play well. You have to spend your time and learn from the people ahead of you. Most people realize that coming in, and they’re willing to do that to be a part of this program.”
One of the reasons he said he came to Mount Union was, “I just knew that I wanted to win.”
So far during his college career, his team is 42-1. An impressive measure by any standard, yet it’s tough to shake the feeling that a player like Spencer hopes to add 17 more wins to his resume before being awarded his Mount Union diploma.