From Pop Warner pals to Pac-12 rivals, Mike Bercovici, Nelson Spruce remain tight

Mike Bercovici, left, and Nelson Spruce formed a bond while playing football together in elementary school. Photo/Courtesy The Spruce family

Whenever Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici hears people say “the Spruce is loose” in reference to Colorado wide receiver Nelson Spruce’s speed and ability to elude defensive backs, he has to smile.

Bercovici knows this is nothing new -- the Spruce has been loose (and wreaking havoc) for years.

He knew the Spruce was loose when they were 8 years old and Bercovici -- according to Spruce -- was a chubby middle linebacker. He knew it back when Spruce was afraid to get hit by the physical Bercovici. He knew it back when Spruce was better known on the Southern California Pop Warner circuit as “Spidey Spruce.”

The two played Pop Warner ball on the Westlake Braves together starting in elementary school and continuing on as teammates until their sophomore year of high school when Bercovici transferred from Westlake High School to Taft High School.

It was actually Spruce’s dad, Neal -- as the Braves’ coach -- who decided Bercovici would become the team’s primary signal-caller after seeing the chemistry between the two. A decade later, Bercovici signed with Arizona State and Spruce signed with Colorado.

“It was fair to say that it was the Spruce and Bercovici show every Saturday morning,” Bercovici said of those Pop Warner days. “To this day, it was one of the best quarterback-wide receiver connections I’ve had.”

The first time the two played against each other in college was 2011 (both players’ true freshman seasons) and the last time was this past Saturday as redshirt seniors, when the Sun Devils took care of the Buffs, 48-23. The two -- whose families are close -- texted throughout the week and saw each other at the captain’s coin toss before the game.

“It was something I never thought I’d see,” Bercovici said. “But it was special.”

Spidey Spruce was a little less than his usual self, catching six balls for just 77 yards, while Bercovici showed no signs of his former linebacker life, throwing for five touchdowns and tacking on 40 rushing yards.

Undoubtedly, that’ll come up in conversations for the two down the road. Bercovici will brag about the Sun Devils’ 5-0 record over the Buffs during their college careers, while Spruce gives Bercovici some credit for the strides he made as an athlete, going from a chubby linebacker to a mobile quarterback.

“He’s out here running a zone-read offense and I would always giving him s--- because he could never run. He was never that good of an athlete,” Spruce joked. “Now he’s breaking off 30-yard runs against UCLA.”

Perhaps after all this time, the Berco has finally come loose. After all, the Spruce would know.