US ARMY GAME: Mr. Spikes' Neighborhood

SAN ANTONIO --- Toward the end of Tuesday's practice Chris Wells, the ultra-talented running back who is committed to Ohio State, ventured into Mr. Spikes' Neighborhood. Running a little toss sweep, Wells was navigating his way through traffic when he hesitated for a split second, creating the crease and angle Brandon Spikes needed to launch himself like an ICBM. The resounding echo of pads cracking together told the story. Wells went down in a heap like he'd been shot.

(Brandon Spikes profile)

That's the way it is for those foolish enough to venture into Mr. Spikes' Neighborhood. This four-star rated (by Scout.com) middle linebacker likes to keep the place he calls home clean and tidy, which usually means decleating intruders with the kind of hits that aren't for the weak of stomach.

"The name of the game is to hit hard but hit clean," said Spikes of Shelby (NC) Crest who will be playing for the East team in Saturday's US Army All-American Game (1 p.m., NBC). "I don't play dirty and I don't hit late, but when I hit, there's going to be some pain. My job is to make you think 'oh no, not again' next time you've got the ball and you see me coming."

Spikes has the kind of size (6-4, 230), speed (4.7 in the 40) and natural instincts to find the football that make him a must-get commodity. He has the kind of reactions that cannot be coached once the ball is snapped. He uses his long arms to keep blockers away from his legs and body while he moves instinctively to the football. Once he gets to the football, it's time to deliver some hi neighbor greetings in the form of a hard hit that packs a lasting sting.

His trademark is a hard hit when he gets his pads under the pads of the ball carrier. The sound of hard-shell plastic making impact is sweet music to the ears of this hard core Dick Butkus fan. Spikes is too young to have seen Butkus play in person, but he gets the NFL Channel on his television back at home and his hobby is watching film on some of the great linebackers in pro football history. He likes watching all of the old greats, but Butkus, is his true favorite.

"The way he hit people … oh, he was good," said Spikes. "He was like the ultimate hitter. He crushed people. He hit hard and he wasn't a dirty player. I try to play the game with the kind of intensity that he played it with."

Butkus once said his goal on every tackle was to hit so hard that the impact would cause the opponent's chin strap to come unbuckled so the helmet would come flying off. Spikes has delivered a few hits that he thinks Butkus would be proud of but there was this one in particular that stands out.

"There was this one quarterback … I don't remember his name … but I had a clean shot at him and I just unloaded," he recalled. "I got up and he was still laying there on the ground, his eyes rolled up in the back of his head. I think he swallowed his mouth piece the way the trainers were working on him.

"There wasn't nothing at all dirty about the hit. It was just hard and clean. You hit people hard and clean and they respect you. They remember you. Late hits, cheap shots … you're asking for people to do the same thing to you and that's not respect."

Another player he studies is former Gator Channing Crowder, a rookie impact player for the Miami Dolphins during the 2005 NFL season.

"I watch him every Sunday," said Spikes. "He brings it every play and he doesn't ever take a play off. I've been watching him since he was playing at Florida."

He started playing linebacker when he was in pee wees and with the exception of his sophomore year at Crest when he was at defensive end, he's been a linebacker all his life. Perhaps it is the natural aggressiveness or perhaps it is just instinctive, but whatever it is, this is the perfect position for him on a football field.

People first started taking notice of him when he was just a little guy, always leading his team in tackles and even then, hitting people hard.

"Back when I was in elementary school people would say I was hitting so hard, even though I was little," he said. "It's in me I guess, playing linebacker and hitting people hard. I guess you could say I was kind of born to be a linebacker.

"I played some at defensive end but this [linebacker] just seems natural for me. It's the place where I play best … middle, strong side … either one, but this is where I can do my thing and help my team best of all. I'd play anywhere a coach would ask me to play if it would help the team --- I got no problem with that at all --- but the place that feels most natural for me is linebacker."

It is at linebacker that he's risen to a place of prominence among college football recruiters. He's rated number 13 nationally at his position by Scout.com but that rating could be changing after his eye-opening performance at the US Army All-American Game practices where he is proving to be a true impact player.

He has gone through the recruiting process, narrowing his field of schools down to three --- Virginia Tech, Alabama and Florida. He will announce his final decision during Saturday's All-American Bowl Game on national television.

"The way I look at it, I can't go wrong with my choice," he said. "These are three great programs and the coaches are all great. Coach (Frank) Beamer (Virginia Tech), Coach (Mike) Shula (Alabama) and Coach (Urban) Meyer (Florida) … those are the kind of coaches that you want to play for.

"They want what's best for their players and they want their players to get an education. These are people you can trust and that's what's going to be the key for me. I'm going to have to go with the people I can trust, people who will encourage me when things may not be going the way I want them going and won't be satisfied when things are going well. I have to be able to trust people that they want what's best for me and that they're trying to help me be the best player and person I can be."

Football and a college degree are the two wheels of the vehicle that will take him to his dreams and allow him to do for his mother in a way that says thanks for all the sacrifices.

"You can call my mom my ultimate role model," he said. "She's my motivation, a hard working woman who's done it all her life for me. I can't even tell you how many sacrifices she's made for me. I feel like God's given me a real gift to play a game I love at a high level and by playing the game I can go to college, get a degree and if I'm good enough, I can go on to that next level.

"If I can get my degree and get to the NFL, I'll have what it takes to take care of my mom and pay her back in a good way for all that she's done for me. I can't let anything stop me from reaching those goals."

The NFL will have to wait. For now, he's happy to be in San Antonio where he has not only shown that he is an impact player but he's making new friends as well as hooking up with a few players he's met along the recruiting trail.

"This is a great game and it's great to be surrounded by all these great players," he said. "The best player I've seen is the guy from Virginia, Percy Harvin --- he's something special. (Tim) Tebow's another one … you can tell he's got it. And that little guy from Florida … C.J. Spiller, oh man he's quick. It's like he's got an extra gear. Some of these O-linemen here are really big dudes, too. This is just a great place to be. I'm really thankful they invited me to come here to play."

While he's here, there is a bit of recruiting going on. Some of the players who have already committed are letting him know they wouldn't mind having him as a teammate.

"Yeah, there's a few guys here who keep letting me know where they think I oughta go to school," he said with a grin.

He wouldn't name names about who's recruiting him hard and he certainly wouldn't announce his school choice early, but he did give one slight hint.

"I don't really like too much cold weather," he said. "I hate cold."


Fightin Gators Top Stories