Against All Odds: Kirk Spencer

December 5th, 2015, Grand Valley State faced off against defending champs, CSU-Pueblo, in the quarterfinal game of the playoffs. Coming off of a great season and knocking out their rival Ferris State a week prior, GVSU set the tone pretty early against the Thunderwolves. For senior running back Kirk Spencer, this was the day that not only his love for the game would be tested, but also his faith.

Starting out as a redshirt freshman in 2012, Kirk Spencer came to Grand Valley State patiently waiting for his shot. Not being the starting running back and only on special teams, Kirk Spencer found himself in the situation he had been waiting for during the fourth game of his freshman season. Chris Robinson, who was the starting running back at the time, suffered a season ending knee injury during the middle of the fourth quarter. Soon after, the second string running back suffered a concussion in the very next play. In this moment you can imagine the excitement for a freshman realizing that he's about to get his shot. Spencer was excited, scared and nervous all in one. He had waited the entire season to earn the starting running back position, but seeing his fellow teammates and close friends get injured ultimately wasn't the way he wanted to earn it—but sometimes you have to take advantage of sudden opportunities. That year, Kirk concluded his freshman year with 950 yards rushing, only having started in six of those games and barely getting any carries in the first four.

The following year, as a sophomore, Kirk Spencer was feeling invincible. He wanted everyone to know that he was the premiere running back for Grand Valley and was on the verge of doing just that, until the late third quarter of the Lakers sixth game against rivals Ferris State. Kirk had broke his right hand. At first, it was thought to just be bruised considering discoloration and swelling hadn't taken effect yet, but once Kirk Spencer heard his coach calling for one of the defensive backs to go out on kick return to receive the ball, Kirk snapped up his helmet, ran and took his place on the field. The ball was kicked to the end zone and Spencer was told to kneel if the ball wasn't kicked far enough, but he didn't listen. Kirk took the kickoff back 103 yards for a touchdown, but during the entire run he knew something wasn't right. "Every time I tried to grip the ball my hand would just bounce on top of it.. I had no strength or feeling" explained Kirk. When he got back to the sideline the doctor checked his hand and it was confirmed that it was broken, which resulted in a devastated Kirk Spencer having to sit out at least four to five games.

Junior year was the most frustrating for Kirk Spencer. Coming in ranked number two in the nation, pre-season All-American and the starting running back, the Lakers found themselves in an early three game losing streak. Kirk felt like he couldn't do anything to help the team during that time, but things started to look up and the Lakers were back in motion and winning again. Everything was starting to look better for Kirk and his team, and he just wanted to finish the year out strong so that he could have momentum going into senior year.

However, with all the good, the bad started to follow and Kirk was bit by the injury bug once again.

In one game, he hears a loud pop after catching a kickoff return, immediately feeling a rush of pain. Not being able to put any weight on his foot at all, the team doctor then proceeds to tell Kirk that he's probably done for the season and that he may need to get surgery on his lisfranc tendon. The lisfranc tendon is the main supporting tendon that supports majority of the weight coming from your legs whenever you push off to walk and run. After getting an x-ray, MRI and a cats scan, Kirk did a lot of praying. He then got news that he had chipped a bone in his foot and sprained his lisfranc ligament. Although, a bit of good news was that he wouldn't need surgery, the doctor still wasn't sure if he would be able to play football again due to the cutting and force put on Kirk's foot. Again, news Kirk didn't want to hear, resulting in immediate devastation and disappointment. During this time, Kirk Spencer talked to his parents, cried and sat in his room doing nothing, just sitting in the dark. "I didn't eat, all I did was sleep, go to the bathroom and sit and cry." he said. At this point, he had given up his hobby― the only thing that had kept him out of trouble, paid for his education and brought joy and memories. On the third night, Kirk's mother called. "She told me I couldn't feel sorry for myself and that I needed to prove everyone wrong like I had did throughout my entire college career..and make a comeback" explained Kirk. "She told me God is just testing to see if I really love football" he said. At that moment, Kirk was convinced that against all odds, he would step on the field a changed player― and for the better.

Due to not being able to run for so long, summer conditioning was horrible for Kirk. He was out of shape and still had pain in his foot whenever he would run for so long. "We conditioned Monday through Friday and I conditioned Monday through Saturday, using Sunday to ice my foot" said Kirk. Every single day that he conditioned he pushed himself so hard that he would throw up, except the last week of conditioning. His teammates saw this and at first, would laugh knowing that he was out of shape. However, it was the determination in Kirk Spencer's eyes that led his teammates to cheer him on, pushing Kirk that much more.

Senior season rolls around and it was a slow start for Spencer. His first game was explained to be his worst game back on the field for the Lakers. He only managed to gain 30 yards on 15 carries and couldn't move the ball anywhere. Looking through film discouraged, Kirk wondered if he had lost his ability to to run the ball. As the season progressed, so did his stats. He started being able to see holes open up again, hit cut backs perfectly, started making a lot of people miss and he was back to his old self. Kirk Spencer went on to finish the regular season with over 1,000 yards rushing and over 15 rushing touchdowns. He was GLIAC player of the week and student-athlete player of the week. Kirk was accomplishing the goals he had set for himself prior to the seasons start. In the playoffs, it wasn't much different. He averaged over 8 yards a carry in every game GVSU played and most of the times if rushing enough, was able to achieve over 100 yards rushing. "I was breaking long runs and loving every second of it. Our third game of the playoffs started off great, we were scoring like no other and they couldn't stop me or any of my teammates..and then it happened" explained Kirk.

That day on December, 15th in Colorado was an exciting time for Spencer and his team, they were so close to reaching the semifinals and determined to reach the national title game. It's a couple minutes into the first quarter and Kirk Spencer breaks an arm tackle to the right side and rushed into the end zone for a touchdown, only to be hit late in the left leg by the opposing team. At first, he thinks to himself that he's alright and that he probably just bruised his leg, but it was when he tried to get up and walk when he knew that something was wrong. He took a step on his left leg and felt a crunch, tries again and gets the same feeling once again. As Kirk's anxiety shoots through the roof, he falls to the ground. "No, no, no I said to myself.. not now" Kirk says. Like many times before, the team doctor comes over to deliver news that Kirk doesn't want to hear. After doing one test, the doctor was 99% sure that Kirk's fibula was broken. Holding emotions in while being carted off the field, he was handed his things and was given his cell phone to call his family. He calls and his dad answers asking if he's okay. Kirk breaks down crying, not even able to get a word out for five minutes. "All he said back was that he knows and for me to know that they're all here for me and that they loved me" he explains.

To this day, Kirk looks back and wonders if there was possibly anything he could have done to prevent it all. Why him? Why then? Why there? He will never know why. Kirk admits that he thought he was done with football, he knew that he would be alright in 4-6 weeks, but what was he going to do after?

At the conclusion of his college career with Grand Valley State, Kirk ended with 1,185 rushing yards― placing him seventh on the single-season list. He hauled 42 passes for 302 yards and returned 33 kickoffs for 785 yards (23.7 ypr.) Spencer led the GLIAC and ranked ninth nationally in all-purpose yards with 2,272 yards. He was second in career all-purpose yards for the Lakers with 5,352 and ranked sixth in career rushing yards with 2,959 yards.

With an injury causing an unfortunate way to end his college career, Kirk Spencer can still look back at the impact he left on GVSU's program. As he was coping with his injury and determined to heal, friends and family suggested that Kirk should try and get an agent. Considering his unfortunate circumstances and the fact that he was injured, Spencer believed this was impossible, but tried anyway. He was able to get in contact with an agent in California who showed and expressed great interest in Kirk. It looked like the situation was going to turn around. However, after keeping in touch over some short weeks, the agent vanished after feeding Spencer the idea that he would fly him out, place him at a facility and pay for everything. Again, Kirk is discouraged. Just when things seemed to get better, the situation gets even more complicated. During this time, the journey to perfect health is underway and from extra rehab that Kirk had did only from home, he recovered at a rapid pace and was out of the boot and starting to jog at the end of four weeks. However, it was another agent who Kirk crossed paths with and got insight about the agent in California. After talking with Kirk he passes his highlight tape over to another agent, Ferrell Elliott, from Louisville who ended up connecting with Kirk Spencer. After a few days of talking, all Kirk could do was pray and he ended up getting exactly what he was waiting for. By the end of the week Kirk Spencer found himself packed up and on his way to his training facility. Although he was still healing from his injury, he pushed through all of his workouts and was grateful to be put with a trainer who agreed to rehab and prepare him for all that was to come next.

Now, that the pain has worn off and Kirk Spencer finds himself fully healthy again, he is waiting for his chance to get a shot as an undrafted free agent. He has learned through his experience that God gives his biggest obstacles to his strongest warriors, and he's lived by that. "You can't change circumstances you have no control over, but you can change how you are after as a person and how you react to them. Perseverance is the key and if you give it your all and allow God to lead you, he will lead you down your right path" explained Kirk. With the NFL draft coming up and the free agency window underway, Kirk Spencer hopes for an opportunity to show what he's got, despite of all the roadblocks and detours he has faced. "All I need is one shot." he says, and he's praying for that one shot to come his way. Through it all, Kirk has persevered and against all odds― his journey isn't quite finished yet.


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