His teammates and coaches left him alone. They all knew better than to even talk to him.
had shut off, sitting there in his personal cocoon. Head tilted up against the bus window, he was locked into the pounding music of his iPod, muting the white noise around him. He sat there looking through the top of his eyelids at the celebration going on next to him, rejoicing over something he thought should be his.
He sat there and blamed himself. The player that wants perfection —
that demands it
— didn't get it this night. Not by his definition.
Spence was plagued by a play. By a few inches. A few measly inches
. A tear dribbled down his face, as he agonized over what he could have done differently. What he could have done to make it perfect.
The 6-4, 230-pound Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg, Pa.)
defensive end blankly sat conveniently forgetting his three sacks and his forced fumble. He somehow couldn't remember the six hurries, and the fact that he was probably the best player on a field filled with exceptional players.
No, all Spence could recall was an incredible second-down play that he made. Or, in his recurring thoughts
, didn't make.
Allentown Central Catholic was toting around the PIAA Class AAA state championship trophy like it was a conquered Roman standard. Spence's eyes were forced to swallow the scene, since McDevitt's bus was parked right next to ACC's.
Spence can't erase the vision.
Perhaps that's why it won't be a healthy experience for any offensive tackle that lines up against Spence this coming season. The senior-to-be is the No. 1-rated defensive end in the nation by MaxPreps, the No. 4 overall player in the country in the MaxPreps Class of 2012 Top 100
, and can be quite arguably the nation's best high school player by the time he's finished his senior year.
But it's the high-octane demands Spence has always placed on himself that have enabled him to reach this point. He demands perfection. He once cried over a report card in third grade, and his father Greg wondered why. It was because the straight A's he received were interrupted by two B-pluses.
More recently, Spence unjustly blamed himself over the Pennsylvania Class AAA state championship loss to ACC. The Vikings pulled out a dramatic 28-27 victory in the game's last two minutes. Spence was a one-man nightmare to the vaunted Vikings offense, stirring chaos all night. On the eventual game-winning drive, Spence batted down a pass on ACC's second-and-13 from its own 12-yard line. It looked as if his play would lead to a McDevitt state title.
It brought the Crusaders two plays away from a state championship. It wound up working in reverse for ACC.
Because on third-and-13, ACC's brilliant quarterback Brendan Nosovitch attacked the opposite side of Spence, peeling back to hit seldom-used tight end Jack Sandherr, who drifted open on a designed play called "Special Al," for a 70-yard strike to the McDevitt 18-yard line. The following play, Nosovitch cleaved through the middle of the McDevitt defense for the game-winning score — and the state championship.
"I always want perfection with everything, I mean everything," said Spence, a four-year starter. "It's why I pour over game film before we play to study tendencies. When I got home the night of that state title game, I couldn't sleep. I felt like I did so much wrong. Everyone else told me I played well, but I didn't want to hear it."Continue reading, and to see video