As passions shift, gridiron comes courting



Tommy Spencer and his family visited Oregon State over the summer. Spencer verbally committed to play football at Oregon State after being recruited by Fresno State, San Diego State and Oregon State.Growing up, Spencer focused on basketball, but now his priorities have changed.


Last June, senior tight end Tommy Spencer tweeted out his decision to commit to Oregon State University, a Pac-12 school with a strong vision of its continued success in the world of football, and a reputation for supporting its athletic department.

Prior to his sophomore year, Spencer hadn’t considered football a priority, let alone one that might earn him a ticket straight into a college of his own choosing. In fact, Spencer’s football background began with a passion entirely out of left field: basketball.

Lay-ups and slam dunks on the smooth wood of a basketball court had always been Spencer’s forte. His dedication to the childhood sport that had him running around in a jersey during elementary school never waned, despite his various efforts and triumphs.

“I have a special place in my heart for basketball,” Spencer said. “I [still] try to get out and play as much as I can.”

The time he’d spent channeling his energy into on-court appearances shifted when he entered high school. Something new had caught Spencer’s attention.

“It [football] is a hard game to understand if you haven’t played it,” Spencer said.

Tackle football wasn’t an option Spencer had ever heavily considered until his freshman year of high school, even with a background in flag football. Still, he took the risk and quickly perfected the art of time management as a two-sport athlete, choosing to double down to focus on his approach to athletics.

One year later, Spencer’s limited experience put him at a disadvantage only evened out by his physical stature. With his size as a natural advantage – 6’5” and 245 pounds, Spencer was heavily urged to make the leap to varsity.

He declined.

“I was just playing to have fun and be with my friends,” Spencer said.

Even after investing his time and energy into the game, it took until sophomore year for Spencer to really fall in love with football. Wendy Spencer, Tommy’s mother, cites the presence of his coach, Tim McDowell, as his main reason for developing a strong attachment to the game and to his position in JV.

“The kids wanted to win for him,” Wendy said. “He was the kind of coach that invested in time.”

With two years of JV football experience under his belt, Spencer secured a position on the varsity team as a junior and opened himself up to more attention from recruiting coaches.

“If you have potential, then they’ll start talking to you,” Spencer said.

He was right. Last school year, a revolving door of coaches from both in-state and out-of-state schools, including places such as Washington and OSU, approached Spencer in a show of interest.

“I kind of got lost because there were so many coaches coming every week,” Spencer said.

According to Tommy, the mass amount of attention Tommy was receiving from colleges arrived in the wake of a good season and several top-notch performances during games.

“Tommy really didn’t go looking for colleges to play [at],” Wendy said. “They came to him.”

Spencer took that opportunity to connect with another recruiter: OSU tight-ends coach Bryan Wozniakte.

“He seemed like a really genuine person,” Spencer said. “[and] he’s younger so I could relate to him a lot.”

Spencer was approached in June with his first of three scholarship offers. The contenders were, in order, SDSU, OSU, and Fresno State. He received two of three scholarship offers (OSU and Fresno) following his attendance at a football camp at both respective campuses.

The camps themselves were single day, two hour long sessions that double as prime recruitment ground for coaches. With this knowledge, Spencer chose camps at campuses that he believed would extend to him the best set of opportunities as a player.

“When you’re there, a lot of coaches can see your skills, and your potential and your fit for the team,” Spencer said.

OSU began courting Spencer the only way an athletic department knows how: recruiting materials, mailers, and media. Additionally, Spencer began fielding daily texts from Wozniak.

“He kept texting me, they were sending me stuff in the mail all the time,” said Spencer. “And I started thinking I really want to go to Oregon State.”

OSU made a concentrated effort to connect with Spencer and the rest of his family to offer Spencer more than an empty dorm and a football field, but a home.

“He wasn’t really set on Oregon at first,” Wendy said. “[But] it felt like they really wanted him.”

Tommy’s list of prerequisites for his future school was short and succinct. More than anything else, Spencer concerned himself with seeking out smaller schools where students could familiarize themselves with the student and staff body, as well as a school that cared about the state of their football and athletics program.

As a Pac-12, OSU fit the bill.