The signs are subtle. They come in pad taps, foot taps, helmet taps. They come in nods to the right or to the left. They come in quick glances here, and then there, and then back again to where the eyes were first set.
The signs and taps and glances come everywhere Noah Spence
is. They need to find him.
Figure out where he is going, where he is lining up. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior defensive end from Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg, Pa.)
has had the mantra drilled inside of him ever since he stepped on a football field to find the man with the ball.
This fall, that script has been flipped to finding where Noah Spence is and avoiding him at all cost. It's made this season a little different — much more challenging than it's ever been for Spence. This fall no one wants any part of running near, at, or even attempting to run around him. He's been an anathema to every offense the Crusaders have faced. The fourth week into the season, players from Susquehanna Township, where Spence lives nearby, were rejoicing. Not because their team lost to the Crusaders, 28-21, but because they felt they nullified Spence.Not really
McDevitt is 5-2 overall this season, and each game featured an offense that wanted no part of Noah Spence. It's forced Crusaders' coach Jeff Weachter to be creative, lining up Spence at strong-side and weak-side defensive end, his normal position, as well as inside and outside linebacker. He's chased down speedy tailbacks running the wildcat, forced quarterbacks to throw prematurely, rained chaos on offensive coordinators redesigning their sets and been as dominant — possibly even more dominant — than Spence has ever been.
The numbers might not bear that out. But game film and anyone who knows football can instantly see.
"I have to work harder to get to the ball, since they're all running away from me," said Spence, who had 23 sacks and 10 forced fumbles as a junior last year. "I'm definitely getting my patience tested. Teams see you on one side, they'll check off and run the play to the other side. A quarterback will tap his side where they'll run the ball, or they'll call a timeout. Some teams will overload to one side to try and block me. I think I've been double and triple teamed every time. I can deal with it. It's even okay being moved around; I'm getting used to it. But anyone that sees my numbers, they'll see my numbers are down. They may think I'm doing the things I did last year."
Then they couldn't be more wrong. Great players, at any level of sports, make those around them better. Nothing can be more true than what Spence has meant to the Crusaders this season. He's been the eye of a suffocating defensive funnel. Opposing teams designed to move away from Spence often run flat into a heavy dose of Crusaders on the opposite side of the field — that is, if Spence hasn't tracked them down from behind first.
Against Susquehanna, for example, a team that entered the game with a high-powered offense and a 3-0 record, Spence had six tackles. Sure, the tally could pedestrian, but consider the following:
Early in the second half, with Susquehanna at midfield on a third-and-4 play, Indians' speedy tailback Jordan Millberry tried running away from Spence, only to be dragged down behind by him.
On the following series, Susquehanna, running the wildcat with its starting quarterback knocked out of the game, drove to the McDevitt 10-yard line. The Indians took seven cracks at the end zone, on a drive prolonged by a McDevitt pass interference call. Susquehanna couldn't budge, because Spence wouldn't let them. He made three tackles during the drive, before the Crusaders recovered a fumble.
"It was a little frustrating in the beginning of this year, I do like contact and being in the middle of everything, but I think I'm dealing with it much better now," said Spence, who's carrying a 3.5 GPA and has scored a 23 on the ACT. "The year has gone pretty much the way I expected it to go. There haven't been many surprises. I was hoping to go undefeated, but it happens. You lose. We lost to Gateway and Cumberland Valley, both games were close.
"But both teams ran away from me. Gateway ran away from me and they only threw the ball five times. Cumberland Valley we stopped them the whole game. Our offense struggled a little in that game, and we lost 3-0. But I'm starting to get used to speaking up. I told the team we have more of a family; we have to be more of a team and I think we are now. I don't really like to talk a lot."
This season, Spence has five sacks and 43 tackles, 11 tackles for losses, and he's blocked a punt for the first time in his high school career. But those numbers should steadily rise. Against Cedar Cliff, in McDevitt's 49-14 victory on Oct. 7, Spence had a team-high seven tackles.
Opposing teams will continue changing their plays at the line of scrimmage running away from Spence. They'll continue thinking that's the best remedy of dealing with him. What they're finding out is that there may be no way of stopping him.
Spence's numbers may be down, but that hasn't deterred coaches from Penn State, Florida, Notre Dame, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Southern California, Maryland and LSU from continuing to call him. His voicemail box is full, and he rarely answers his phone, opting to have recruiters go through his father Greg, who stresses that Noah enjoy his senior year of high school and concentrate on his grades and his season — in that order.
"The goal has been the same, that's to get back there to the state championship and win it," Noah said. "I've had to adjust to some new things this year, and I think I have. The way I see it, it better prepares me for college. My focus now is our team and my senior year. This team wants a state championship this year, and I'm going to do everything I can to make it happen."
Including frequent trips across the field to make plays only a handful of high school defensive linemen in the country can make.Watch more videos of Bishop McDevitt football