As Colin Spencer prepared to compete in the Houston SPARQ combine, numbers weren't exactly working in his favor.
Unlike most of his fellow competitors in the March 3 event, the Woodrow Wilson (Dallas) cornerback had zero offers from colleges. Recruiting analysts gave Spencer the same treatment, leaving him off of every national rankings list. And even though Spencer had tallied six interceptions and five blocked kicks as a junior last fall, coaches and scouts paid more attention to another figure -- his height, 5-foot-9½.
Now almost four months later, Spencer can't talk football without someone bringing up that magic number: 141.12. That's the impressive SPARQ score recorded by the senior at the Houston combine, earning him the third-highest rating of all time, an invite to The Opening on July 5-8 and, most recently, a spot on the Kansas Jayhawks.
"All that day and the next few days after [the combine], there were all kinds of people trying to get in contact with me," recalled Spencer, whose shuttle time of 3.87 seconds is a record. "Schools like Michigan State, SMU, Baylor, Arkansas and a lot of reporters, too. Kansas came a few weeks later but they showed the most interest and pulled the trigger first."
It'd be easy for some to say that Spencer's performance was a blip on the radar or that good testing scores don't always equal skills and success on game day. But really, that's too easy of an explanation for a player who has worked so hard to reach this point.
After picking up football as a sixth-grader, Spencer didn't start playing cornerback until his freshman year at Wilson. Since then, the senior has engrossed himself in learning the position, watching hours of film before school, after practice and even during lunch.
"He became a student of the game," Wildcats defensive coordinator Joe Sawyer said. "One time he came up to me in the hallway and asked me about how to read and cover a certain offensive set. And I'm thinking, 'Shouldn't you be thinking about girls or something?' He's just that dedicated."
Spencer took the same approach toward the SPARQ combine, turning speed that he called "kinda fast" into a record-setting shuttle time of 3.87 seconds.
"I started to realize that I had more speed than I thought, so I trained hard and started learning the technique for each event," Spencer said. "I didn't have any form as far as running and a lot of people doubted me, but once I learned the technique I went from being, in my mind, an average player to an elite player who can move a lot better."
Ask Sawyer and he'll say Spencer was already pretty fast to begin with. How else do you explain his five blocked kicks, two interceptions returned for touchdowns and numerous times pressuring the quarterback off corner blitzes?
"With his speed, we're able to switch up between man and zone concepts on defense because of what he can do," Sawyer said. "He's always been a kid who really worked hard and has unique skills and now it's really starting to show."
This week at the Nike world headquarters in Oregon, the nation will get a chance to see these same skills and evolution from Spencer. And while Spencer hopes to live up to the buzz by bringing home the SPARQ national title, he's actually more excited to learn from the coaches and former athletes in attendance.
"I take The Opening almost as a class in school," Spencer said. "I've learned a lot from Coach Sawyer, but because we don't have a secondary coach, a lot of times in the past we get thrown out there and they just say 'Don't let them catch the ball.' That's why I'm excited for The Opening because it's a chance to learn the position against some of the best athletes and to keep getting better."