Noah Spence puts family first

On the positive side of growing up with eight brothers, it never was hard for Noah Spence to find someone to play football with.

On the negative side, it was always hard to get seconds at the dinner table.

Maybe that's part of where he developed his speed. Spence, who plays at Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg, Pa., is the nation's No. 2 defensive end and the No. 4 overall prospect in the 2012 ESPNU 150. His combination of size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds), speed (his coach says a sub-4.5 40) and desire (a jaw-dropping 23 sacks last season) has college coaches from coast to coast clamoring for his attention.

Noah is the youngest of four sons born to Greg and Helen Spence. The Spences since have added five adopted sons. Here's the roster: Ray, 33; Rod, 30; Greg, 25; Malcolm, 19; Alonzo, 18; Alex, 18; Noah, 17; Tariq, 17; and Marcus, 15.

"Having eight brothers has helped me strive to be the best all the time," said Noah Spence, an Under Armour All-American. "It also has shown me some are less fortunate and that you can't take things for granted. My brothers have been supportive, and we are always pushing each other to be the best. It's like I have grown up around a team atmosphere all the time."

It has made him a great teammate, according to Bishop McDevitt coach Jeff Weachter.

"As much as has been thrown at him, he's still so humble," Weachter said. "He knows he has been blessed with natural ability, and he has not changed with all the attention. Noah has not changed one bit. That's unique. The more offers he's getting, the harder he's working. A lot of kids will stop working. This drives him to work harder."

Last season, Spence led Bishop McDevitt in tackles, including 34 behind the line of scrimmage. He forced eight fumbles and returned two for touchdowns.

"Noah is the total package," Weachter said. "He has good strength, long arms and big hands. What makes him special are his first two steps. They are the quickest I have ever seen. He uses his hands very well. A lot of college coaches that came through here said that they are so impressed with his hands, speed and quickness off ball.

"He runs so well, too, a sub-4.5 40. And he's not done growing. His father is bigger than him and goes about 285."

Simply put, Spence puts fear in opposing quarterbacks.

"My best strength is my pass rush," Spence said. "I have a good eye for the ball. I am pretty good at diagnosing plays. I play with good instincts and a good motor. Regardless of where the ball is I am not going to stop because I always think I am going to get the ball. I am never going to stop.

"Right now, I use more speed than strength, so I am working on getting stronger. I know that would take my game to the next level."

Because he knows there always is a "next level," Spence continues to work hard. He does extra speed and agility drills. He watches film of practice and does defensive end drills with his brothers.

His brother Tariq will also be a senior on the Crusaders football team this season. Tariq plays linebacker and defensive tackle.

"Noah and I are pretty tight," Tariq Spence said. "It's amazing playing beside him.

"I have to say that he surprises me with some of the unbelievable stuff he can do out there on the field. But that's always been Noah. We are all there to support him. Noah's always been the leader, and playing football with him has been a great experience for me."

So what possessed Greg and Helen Spence to add boys such as Tariq to their brood?

"Our older sons had already graduated high school and were on their way to college or the work force when we moved to Harrisburg from Philly [in 1998]," Greg Spence said. "Noah was 4 years old and was pretty alone in the life with his parents. We also have always helped out the children in our southwest Philadelphia neighborhood when their parents were having any difficulties. Noah's little friends would regularly stay at our house for dinner and even go on vacations with us."

Eventually, some of those little friends became adopted members of the family.

"All of these boys have been quite the blessing," Greg Spence said. "All the boys are doing well. They are a very close group and so supportive of each other.

"With Noah, he has been and was amazing with the adoptions. He was one of those kids that didn't mind sharing his parents. There was never any animosity."

Helen Spence has to be a woman of remarkable patience, but she said she always has enjoyed her role.

"Being in a home with 10 men was awesome." she said. "I always felt like the queen of the house.

"I am most proud of our family's being grounded in faith and allowing our faith to order our footsteps. I am also very proud that we are a family that has high expectations for our sons, and they try their best to meet those expectations."

Noah Spence believes he wouldn't be where he is today without his parents.

"I think my drive came from my parents," Spence said. "They always said 'Be the best.' I have a desire to be the best.

"My parents, family and my coach have really impacted my life. Even outside of football, my dad, brothers and coach have always been there, pushing me."

That desire was seen at a very young age, but it wasn't on the gridiron -- it was in the classroom.

"When Noah was 8, he always wanted to make straight A's," his father said. "He was close all year, and he finished with all A's and two B-pluses. Noah was very upset and in tears. On one hand, I was happy with his desire, but I had to remind him that he gave best effort and should be very proud of himself. I told him: 'You are only 8, and you shouldn't make a habit of being sad when you should be happy.'"

That desire produced a prospect with 40 scholarship offers. Spence never would have imagined this was even a possibility when he entered high school.

"My very first offer came from Pitt," Spence said. "I think I was going into 10th grade and went to their camp. It felt surreal at the time. It was crazy, but it started me thinking more about college. I didn't realize I would get these other offers. Looking back, it was weird to have one that early."

Fast-forward to today and Spence remains open with the process. He has unofficially seen Pitt, Penn State, NC State, Rutgers and Maryland and hopes to get out and see plenty of other college football programs before he makes his decision.

"I want to see everyone I can," Spence said. "I will take all my official visits. I am pretty open with the entire process. I would like to see USC, Florida, Miami, Alabama, Auburn, Cal and a bunch of other schools."

Spence and his family know he's blessed to be in the position he's in. They also believe there's no better place for a recruit like him than Bishop McDevitt.

"One of his best friends is [Cincinnati commit] Jameel [Poteat] and he watched him get recruited last year," Greg Spence said. "I think that has helped Noah immensely. Coach Weachter also has an outstanding reputation. The school has academic structure. Everything is here for Noah, and that started his freshman year.

"They all taught him how to handle himself. It can't be put into words how much it has helped him to watch all the athletes before him. Even I have talked with the fathers about the process and been given advice. Bishop McDevitt and Coach Weachter have been a blessing."

They have a saying at Bishop McDevitt: "Tradition never graduates." It's the football motto started about six years ago by Weachter. It's something beyond those three words.

"Our guys really take it to heart," Weachter said. "I mean, former players here come back and mentor the younger guys. LeSean McCoy, Salath Williams, Aaron Berry and others come back and work out with our guys and then they talk with them. They hang out with them. Tradition never graduates. It rings true here. It's really something."

That has meant a lot to Spence and all the others who have walked in his shoes.

"I have learned a lot from the guys before me," Noah Spence said. "The main thing is not to let this stuff get to your head. I also know I have to make my own decision and stay humble."

If it were up to Spence, he would ditch all the attention and forgo the accolades. He just wants to be one of the guys.

"The recruiting process is real humbling. I feel real blessed and take it in stride. I know a lot of people don't have this opportunity. To be honest, I don't really like all the attention. I can do without it.

"I just want to be one of the guys. I love my team. They are my friends, and we talk about everything. We just chill. It's a good family atmosphere, and that's what I am looking for. I don't remember a weekend when I wasn't with one of my teammates. We are a real close group, even the guys that have graduated."

One of those close friends is linebacker Brock Dean. The two met their eighth-grade year.

"We are best friends," Dean said. "We are real close, and it's been really amazing playing with him. But it's more than that. There's something special about Bishop McDevitt. It's the tradition. We are always a close-knit team. We call each other family and even wear bands that say 'family' on them. This is a very special place."

Something special. A close-knit team. A family.

Sounds suspiciously like the Spence household.