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Forgotten Buckeyes: Evan Spencer made play after play to help take down Alabama

The ongoing series where we re-remember lesser known Buckeye heroes.

Evan Spencer celebrating Ohio State’s 2014 National Championship

Contrary to how it sometimes seems, not every difference-making football player at Ohio State will go on to have success in the NFL. In fact, it is a small group that even makes it onto a Week One roster.

However, just because a former player fades away from the spotlight, it does not mean that they deserve to be forgotten. Some of the most important moments and memories from the last 20 years can be attributed to the players whose careers ended with a bowl game.

This is a series acknowledging forgotten Buckeyes; an ode to the players without pictures and plaques hanging in The Horseshoe. These guys all played a pivotal role in historic Ohio State moments, and should be remembered for their special contributions to OSU football.

Evan Spencer | WR (2011-2014)

Spencer earned a ton of Buckeye leaves for contributions not shown on the stat sheet
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

When Urban Meyer took the Ohio State coaching job in 2012, he promised to recruit at an elite level, and he did more than make good on that promise. His signing classes would become legendary over the course of his tenure in Columbus.

In 2014, Meyer put together what is arguably the most loaded roster in OSU football history. It included former five-star recruits, eventual Heisman Trophy contenders, All-Americans, and an absurd number of future NFL players. All told, over 50 guys from that year’s team were at least invited to an NFL mini-camp. Among the biggest stars were Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, and Michael Thomas. The team’s most lethal returning player, Braxton Miller, was not even part of the equation due to an unfortunate preseason injury.

Now of course, unless you’ve been knocked out for the last decade, you know that those 2014 Buckeyes would go on to win the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship. The ridiculously talented group overcame an early season loss to Virginia Tech, and entered the first ever CFP as the four seed.

They went on to upset the seemingly unbeatable Alabama, then dominated Oregon and Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Mariota. However, it wasn’t just the likes of Bosa and Elliott who came up big during Ohio State’s playoff run. Third-string quarterback Cardale Jones caught magic in a bottle. Former high school QB and three-star recruit Darron Lee became a nightmare for opposing offenses. The team was led by superstars, but made even more successful by less heralded players.

Another one of those players was wide receiver Evan Spencer. Spencer came to Ohio State as a four-star recruit from Illinois. Not only was he a highly sought after wide receiver; he also happened to be the son of Tim Spencer — former Buckeye running back, NFL veteran, and eventual position coach at OSU. The pedigree was there. Evan took after his old man in the football department and landed offers not only from Meyer, but other top programs such as Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska. He likely would have received more if it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that he was going to follow in his dad’s scarlet and gray footsteps.

Spencer would go on to contribute, but never star, at Ohio State. Over his four-year Buckeye career, he accounted for 52 catches, less than 600 yards, and only seven touchdowns. He was often overshadowed by other guys at the WR position. He played with — or more accurately, behind — the likes of Michael Thomas, Devin Smith, and a host of H-backs made popular once Meyer brought his offensive philosophy to OSU.

However, Spencer’s impact could never be measured solely by stats. He was a worker, and a grinder. He was hardened by the 6-and-6 2011 season, and endured a bowl ban the next year. By 2013, he was viewed as a leader — despite not being a household name.

Like many Buckeye receivers, Spencer played special teams as well… and he loved it! He was always willing to make a tackle in punt coverage, or to make a key block in the return game.

Spencer took his tough-nosed approach over to the offense, where he was a hellacious blocker in the run game as well. Most importantly, he did it in every single game he played. Spencer appeared in 43 games over his four years, and if you watched him, you know that he lacked effort in exactly zero of them. As Meyer used to say, “He brought the juice.”

His effort and immeasurable impact did not go unnoticed. Meyer once called Spencer the MVP of the 2014 team. Other coaches and teammates revered Spencer. Despite being an afterthought to most opposing defenses, it was rare for him not to be called upon during big moments — even if it was just to cover a punt or identify the correct block to be made as a receiver. He was a quintessential team-first player.

It is almost karmic that Spencer’s biggest individual game happened to be arguably the most important one he played in. While he would have been likely to pass on an interview regarding the game, coaches and teammates would say it had nothing to do with karma — Evan Spencer came up big because he worked hard, and that’s what they expected him to do.

I am of course talking about the 2015 Sugar Bowl against Alabama. The next game against Oregon secured the rings, but the semifinal victory over ‘Bama is talked about first when that season comes up in conversation.

In typical fashion, Spencer contributed just one catch for seven yards — but his impact was felt in three enormous plays that will be mentioned for years to come. Trailing just before halftime, the Buckeyes drove deep into Alabama territory and dialed up a trick play. Spencer took a reverse, then tossed a beautiful touchdown pass to Thomas. The score gave Ohio State major momentum.

In the third quarter, he threw a nasty block to clear the way for Ezekiel Elliot’s “85 yards through the heart of the south.” Finally, Spencer secured the onside kick that all but locked up the game for OSU. Tons of people think about that game as the Zeke game, or the Cardale game, but Spencer played a pivotal role in three of the game’s biggest moments.

Similar to Maurice Hall in the last edition of Forgotten Buckeyes, Spencer made his largest impact in the penultimate game of a championship season. Against Oregon, he failed to register a stat. The Buckeyes simply didn’t need heroics from many. Elliott ran for 246 yards and four touchdowns, and the game was largely never in doubt.

Spencer likely got many glowing recommendations from coaches, and had prototypical size, but he was somewhat surprisingly drafted in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. However, the team formerly known as the Redskins cut him before the regular season. He latched on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a bit; a very cool moment in time that he was able to spend with his dad, who was a position coach with Tampa Bay at the time. But ultimately, Spencer’s NFL career was extremely brief.

He decided that rather than chasing the NFL, he was going to pursue other opportunities. He has popped up on local media coverage and has plenty of other interests. With a work ethic like Spencer’s, he will surely be successful in everything that he does.

As Ohio State fans, we should never forget — or overlook — how impactful and successful he was on the field. Spencer was a strong locker room presence on some of the Buckeyes’ best teams, and had his greatest individual game came in one of the most monumental and memorable OSU victories in history.

It was not that long ago, but let’s make sure we remember Evan Spencer for many years to come.