Former 5-Star DE Noah Spence on the Verge of Stardom
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It wasn’t surprising to see Ohio State students gathered around Braxton Miller on the field after Saturday’s Student Appreciation Day.
The junior quarterback of the Buckeyes is already a superstar in Columbus.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The same could probably be said for Bradley Roby, Ryan Shazier and maybe even Carlos Hyde. But it was sophomore Noah Spence who drew an unexpected crowd of students wanting an autograph or picture with the kid from Pennsylvania who could just be the next big thing at Ohio State.
“I'm glad he's on our team, that's all I can say,” OSU offensive line coach Ed Warinner said of the second-year defensive end.
“His speed off the edge is amazing. He can change the game on the edge, so that's going to be good for us. He can be an impact player for us.”
Warinner has had to sit back and watch his offensive linemen take a beating from Spence this spring. Unlike John Simon or even classmate Adolphus Washington, Spence is simply too quick off the edge for most offensive tackles.
He has been a nightmare for fellow sophomore Taylor Decker through the first 12 practices of the spring and even senior left tackle Jack Mewhort, the team’s best pass-blocker, has had some trouble staying in front of the 6-3, 250-pound end out of Harrisburg.
“Noah Spence has gotten a lot better and has more confidence since the last time I played against him,” Mewhort said this spring.
“He'll make us better,” Warinner added, “because he gives us something every day to work on which is hard to coach and recruit, and that's speed.”
That speed made Spence a Parade Magazine All-American, a five-star prospect and the No. 1 defensive end recruit in the country coming out of Bishop McDevitt High School a year ago.
But it’s not just the natural physical ability, of which he has plenty, that has made Spence one of the true standouts on an OSU defense looking to replace seven starters this spring.
“There's not a day we come out to practice that Noah doesn't get better or he doesn't learn a new technique,” OSU defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said.
“He learns something new every day. He was young and did it with effort last year. Hopefully he's going to be more experienced and do it with effort, technique and fundamentals this year.”
Two years ago, Spence was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Pennsylvania. He was the state's two-time big school defensive player of the year, recording over 200 tackles, 50 tackles-for-loss and 35 sacks during his final two years of high school ball.
It wasn’t even fair for the high school offensive tackles who had to block the Under Armour All-American, but now Spence is adding a better understanding of the game to his repertoire.
“I know more about the schemes and where other people are going,” said Spence, who added 20 pounds of muscle during the offseason.
“That's what messed me up a lot last year. I would know what I was doing, but if someone changed the call right before the play, then I wouldn't know what was going on. I just have to get a better feel for the defense.”
He has added a countermove to his initial step that often leads to a hold or a complete blow-by on the outside. His ability to get in the backfield and create havoc has made everyone on the defensive line a little better this spring.
“Noah does stuff that not a lot of people can do,” said teammate Michael Bennett.
“He's just like any other young player, he's got stuff to work on, but there are times you see him and you're like ‘Wow! That guy can do some stuff.’ He's going to be a player.”
The only real question is how long it will take for Spence to deliver on the first real personnel decision Urban Meyer made when he took the head coaching job at Ohio State a year and a half ago.
Meyer knew he would have to build a staff, and he probably already had Mickey Marotti on a private jet from Gainesville to Columbus, but the first call Meyer made following his introductory press conference was to southeastern Pennsylvania.
He knew he needed to get a star player who could rush the passer for Ohio State’s 2012 recruiting class, so Meyer dialed up the top available player in the area. It just so happened to be Spence, a one-time Penn State lean who was considered to be a top 10 player in the country at any position.
What separated Spence, in the eyes of Ohio State’s coaching staff, was his tenacity and his competitiveness, along with his hunger to be the best football player he could possibly be.
“He's got an innate ability to play really hard. He's got a great motor,” said Vrabel, who played 14 seasons in the NFL with Pittsburgh, New England and Kansas City.
“Noah's got a lot of ability. A lot of God-given athletic ability. You blend all of those together and you've got a pretty good product.”
Now we know why all those students wanted his autograph.
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