Spencer Takes Advantage of Special Program

RALEIGH, N.C. - More than 70 student-athletes will become proud graduates of NC State University on Saturday. Most of those soon-to-be alums recently completed their competitive eligibility, but several have taken a longer road to their degree with the help of a special program at NC State.

In the fall of 2006, the Wolfpack Club instituted the Reconnect fund, which provides financial assistance for former scholarship athletes to come back and finish their degrees.

Those enrolled in the program are monitored through progress reports and are given access to tutors who can help see them through their courses. The program gives former student-athletes a second chance to graduate and helps them achieve their dreams and goals for future careers.

Since 2010, 33 student-athletes have participated in the program with 18 already graduated and several others currently working on their degrees. One Reconnect enrollee who will officially become an NC State graduate on Saturday is former Wolfpack wide receiver Owen Spencer.

A second-team All-ACC performer in 2010, Spencer finished his senior campaign ranked fifth in the league in receiving yards per game. His 2,441 career receiving yards ranks third in school history, trailing only former Wolfpack greats Torry Holt and Jerricho Cotchery, who both went on to successful NFL careers.

Following Spencer's senior campaign, he planned for his next stop to be the NFL as well. At the time, however, he didn't realize how many stops that would entail. His time in the NFL was brief and tumultuous, as in the span of six months, he was a Tennessee Titan, a Seattle Seahawk, a Detroit Lion, a Minnesota Viking and a Cleveland Brown.

A meniscus injury and subsequent surgery eventually showed Spencer that the time had come to hang up his cleats. "There was definitely a sense of embarrassment," said Spencer. "It was a really tough time for me. I'd been training to be a professional football player for more than half of my life and then all of a sudden, it's over. Football is gone."

Spencer didn't completely give up the dream of playing in the NFL, as he would have a couple more workouts with teams. But he also began to think about fulfilling another dream: earning his college degree.

"I have a lot of younger cousins and I always told them I would get my degree. I knew I would do it one day, but wasn't sure exactly how to get started."

Spencer started out slow, taking an online class. Then after speaking to Katie Sheridan, associate director for NC State's Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes, and learning about the RECONNECT program, he enrolled back in school full time.

THAT dream will come true on Saturday, as Spencer earns his B.S. in science technology and society. He's not sure what his next step will be, but knows that a plethora of options will be available to him once he's a college graduate. "The two most important pieces of paper in your life are your birth certificate and your degree," Spencer laughs. "One you just get, but the other, you earn!"

The RECONNECT program continues to change as the NCAA makes adjustment to rules allowing institutions to provide various resources for returning student athletes, but former scholarship student-athletes that are interested in returning to school can work with their campus advisor and the Reconnect coordinator to create a plan for graduation.

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