Knowing it would come up didn’t make it any easier, apparently. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer’s gaze drifted from the audience down to a doodle-filled sheet of paper while his close childhood friend Dean Hood – the head coach at the Eastern Kentucky program that now houses Spence – offered a glowing assessment of Spence’s skills.
Of course, Meyer could be forgiven for zoning out for a moment. He already knew what his good friend was about to describe, having seen it up close for two years in Columbus.
“I have not coached a kid like that,” Hood said. “I had Aaron Curry at Wake Forest, who was the fourth player taken in the draft, but he was different and there were more guys that were like him that were around him or we were going to play. There's nobody like Noah Spence on our team.”
“As a matter of fact, we have an offensive tackle back that's first-team all-conference, and I had to put him on suicide watch in spring ball going against Noah every day in spring practice. So we don't have anybody like him that's on our team or that we're going to play.”
Hood, who served as Wake Forest’s defensive coordinator for seven years before taking the head job at EKU, knew what he was getting into when he landed Spence. The physically gifted defensive end was ruled permanently ineligible by the Big Ten for failing a second drug test – ending his Ohio State career. Still, Meyer thought enough of Spence to make calls on his behalf.
“You know about him because of the fact that Urban called me wanting to help him,” Hood said. “That speaks volumes for him, his family and what Coach Meyer thinks about him as a person. Made mistakes, absolutely, but Coach thought that he'd be a kid that would really relish a second chance and deserved a second chance and is a good kid, a good student.”
Spence’s time in Richmond, Ky., hasn’t been distraction-free thus far. He was arrested in May for shattering a glass bottle in a street, but Hood said that incident won’t jeopardize his second chance. Hood attributed the attention it got to the nature of being a high-profile figure in a small town, saying that he’s had other players make similar mistakes with far less coverage.
Were it somewhere else, Spence might be looking for yet another destination, but Hood said he doesn’t use a strict zero-tolerance policy.
“He came in as a guy… I hate to tell kids, ‘OK, zero tolerance – you do something wrong, you're out of here.’ So I don't do that," Hood said. “I said, 'Hey, you have a blank slate. You've done something. That's the past, and that's forgiven. Let's start out from square one. But because of these things that had happened, anytime we have a drug test, you're obviously going to be in it.’ It’s forgive but not forget.”
Spence has to this point stayed away from the problems that cost him his 2014 season. The man who led Ohio State with eight sacks in 2013 despite missing the Orange Bowl likely would have been a high draft pick if he’d managed to stay the course at Ohio State. Instead, he’s toiling away at the FCS level while trying to rebuild his image.
“Our drug counseling people contacted the people down at Ohio State. It's the same program,” Hood said. “He hasn't missed a counseling session. He has passed every drug test, he has all A's and B's for the semester. He's taking 12 hours this summer and he's going to graduate in the fall.”