Spitler's long and sometimes difficult journey at Ohio State will come to an end in 2009. He has waited a long time to battle for a starting linebacker job, but his opportunity to make an impact is finally here. Spitler has been a backup for the previous three seasons, but he's never reached the top of the depth chart. There was one big reason for that: two-time All-American James Laurinaitis, who – like Spitler – happened to also be a middle linebacker. As Laurinaitis thrilled fans with his play on the field, Spitler had to settle for special teams duty and mop-up work.
Spitler admitted going through some frustrating times.
"I've had some ups and downs, and with the downs there were a couple of times where it was real hard," Spitler said. "Like my sophomore season, just knowing this guy (Laurinaitis) was playing unbelievable football ahead of me, and it wasn't looking too great.
"But he helped me, my coaches helped me and the other linebackers helped me pull through and stay strong. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel."
Spitler has been traveling that tunnel since 2005 when he arrived at Ohio State following an impressive high school career. He earned first team all-state honors at Bellbrook, Ohio, as a senior after recording 132 tackles and 11 for a loss with seven sacks and two interceptions. After taking a redshirt in '05, Spitler played in all 13 of Ohio State's games in 2006. Most of those appearances came on special teams, with Spitler ending the season with seven tackles.
In 2007, Spitler started on four special teams units and made 26 tackles. He even recorded his first sack against Youngstown State in the Buckeyes' season opener. Yet he still did not see much time at linebacker, and it was more of the same in last season. Spitler made only 11 tackles and missed several weeks with a sprained knee.
Despite the difficulties, Spitler never seriously considered transferring from Ohio State.
"Ultimately it comes down to what's best for you," Spitler said. "What was best for me was staying here. I'm really looking forward to proving what I haven't been able to do the past few seasons this season."
Spitler has missed preseason practice time in recent days because of a minor injury, but his peers were impressed with his preparation in the spring and early summer. Senior safety Kurt Coleman called Spitler a weight room freak and said he noticed a hunger in the player his teammates call "hillbilly strong."
"He works so hard," Coleman said. "He wants to be the best and you can see it in all of his drills. He's finishing first or second in every drill. He's done a great job commanding the middle linebacker spot, and he's been waiting to play for four years. It's nothing new to him. He knows the system and he's ready to go."
"He's done a great job in humbling himself," Coleman added. "He knows now is his time. I don't think he's concerned that he hasn't gotten to play and he hasn't gotten to start in four years. He knows it's his time now and he'll make the most of his opportunity."
If it finally is Spitler's time – ironically enough not at middle linebacker but on the strongside in early preseason practices – it is because of Spitler's hard work in the shadows. Hard work is something that comes natural to Spitler, whose hometown is in a rural area of suburban Dayton. From baling hay in Bellbrook to lifting weights at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to excelling in practices, Spitler and hard work have gone hand-in-hand.
"I've always tried to work as hard as I can, and if that doesn't work out in the end, I'll know I did everything I possibly could to put myself in the best position to be the best I could," Spitler said.