Akeem Realizes His Dream

Illinois defensive tackle Akeem Spence got the call he was waiting for on Saturday in the fourth round, but it wasn't who he expected. Instead, it turned out better than he expected.

Illinois has built a tradition as of late in producing NFL defensive linemen. Corey Liuget (Chargers) led the way, followed by defensive end Whitney Mercilus (Texans). Now Akeem Spence joins the list of former Illinois defensive linemen in the NFL, being chosen by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the third pick in the fourth round.

Spence got so excited when the call came through that he nearly turned his brother into a Hail Mary at his family's home.

"Being picked. It was a great feeling," he said. "My dad and I got the call from Coach Schiano. They traded up to get me. They didn't take me yesterday, but to get the phone call today, I screamed and jumped and almost threw my brother up in the air."

Spence felt important to the Bucs from the start after speaking with coach Greg Schiano. Schiano made it very clear that Spence was just what they were targeting in the draft.

"They liked how I got off the ball, the way I played with leverage and power," Spence said. "I chase the ball down the field. Running sideline to sideline and making plays. They saw enough in me to think that I could become a better pass rusher. They told me that from day 1. They said I was their favorite d-tackle, I believed it, and they came through."

But, believe it or not, when Spence's phone rang, he thought he was headed somewhere entirely different.

"The fact that they traded up to get me meant a lot," he said. "I saw the Raiders on the clock, and seeing my phone go off, I thought it might be them, but I got the call from the Bucs. I was excited when Coach Schiano asked me if I wanted to be a Buc. Talking to him and knowing how much he liked me. They almost traded up to get me in the third round."

Unlike Oakland, Tampa is just a few hours from Spence's hometown of Fort Walton Beach, Florida. The opportunity to play close to home is priceless according to Spence.

"That's the biggest thing," he said. "I was so excited. I'm right down the road, probably just a couple hours away. My family couldn't make every game at Illinois but they can make every game now. There's no better feeling. I couldn't ask for anything more."

Being far away from home isn't unfamiliar to Spence, though. Despite interest from a number of big programs, including home-state programs Florida and Florida State, Spence bought in to Illinois and is grateful for everyone there that helped him get to where he is today.

"Coming out of high school, I was ok with recruiting," he said. "I had some bigger schools on me, but I wanted to get away from home. I didn't think I would go that far away until Coach Zook and Coach Disch came down here. I saw Illinois play in the Rose Bowl with Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn and I took a chance."

"All my teammates like Whitney, Corey, Tavon, Mike, and all the position coaches, that made it great," he said. "Coach Gilmore, I give him a lot of credit. He's putting guys in the league every year now. I learned so much."

Spence played both interior defensive tackle spots in his time at Illinois, and that versatility has him ready to play wherever the Bucs want him at the next level.

"I think I'll actually be playing the one technique over the center," he said. "They slide their front a lot. I think I'll hold up fine having played against the great offensive linemen at other Big Ten schools. I'm ready to get in there and play ball and figure it all out."

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