"We Walk!" #6: RB Michael Spanos [#4]

The Bootleg's Scott Cooley caught up with freshman walk-on RB Michael Spanos, who has already turned a few heads with his elusive running style during "Week One" of fall practice. Working his way up a depth chart loaded with talented backs won't be a picnic for the elusive young runner from Stockton, but he is aiming high. And as Spanos points out, he is definitely "playin' with the big boys now!"

"We Walk!" #6: RB Michael Spanos [#4]

Alexander G. Spanos epitomizes the American dream. A rags-to-riches story that tells of a washed-up baker who turned $800 into a billion-dollar real estate enterprise. TheStockton native will turn 86 later this month and is the owner of the NFL's San Diego Chargers.


Spanos has been blessed with four children and 15 grandchildren in his lifetime. His lineage has been immersed in the sport of football since each took in its first breath of air. Spanos's passion for the game has influenced one grandson to extend his football career to a higher level.


"He's been a huge inspiration to me and my family," said Michael Spanos, a freshman walk-on running back for Stanford in 2009. "They set the bar high for themselves because of him, so I do as well. He's taught me to never quit on what I've started and to 'dream big' because it's definitely possible."


And now Michael will apply his grandfather's counsel to his own aspirations. A walk-on NCAA athlete is given nothing, and Michael must follow the example set before him and make something out of nothing.


"Seeing [my grandfather] start from nothing and getting to where he is just shows that if you want something in life, you can go out and get it," he said.


Young Michael Spanos graduated from Lincoln High School (Stockton, Calif.) and was selected as the San Joaquin Athletic Association Most Valuable Player in 2008. The 5-10, 175-pound scatback rushed for 1,408 yards and 23 touchdowns on 141 carries his senior season. Spanos left a lasting impression on the Trojan football record books the final game of his career, carrying the rock a season-high 24 times for 277 yards and a pair of scores. Blazing speed also made Spanos a lethal punt returner.


Growing up in Northern California, a career at Stanford was always on the young man's mind – academically and athletically.


"Education always came first in the whole process," Spanos said. "Stanford is one of the greatest schools academically in the United States. It also has an amazing football program so you get two of the best in one. Once I was accepted and the coaches said they wanted me, it was a really easy choice."


Spanos had all the tools academically to attend any higher education program in the country. It's no surprise that he was being courted by every Ivy League school in the Northeast.


"I was waiting for Stanford, but if that didn't turn out I was going to Yale," stated Spanos. "Of all the colleges I went to see, Stanford just felt right. The campus, surroundings, coaches, players and everything, it was just my most comfortable fit."


Another family member kept Spanos familiar with Stanford happenings, but didn't ever persuade him into his decision. Nick Ruhl, a walk-on quarterback for the Cardinal from 2006-08, is a cousin of Spanos.


"[Nick] made the process smooth and easy," Spanos said. "He was always helping me out during recruiting, getting my film to the coaches, showing me around Stanford, meeting the guys. He made me like [Stanford] that much more."


Ruhl recently transferred to Menlo College where aims to be the starting quarterback for the Oaks this season. Spanos is looking forward to seeing his cousin succeed in his final year of college football eligibility.


"Last year [Nick] had a really bad hamstring injury and broke his finger so he wanted to get one last season in," said Spanos. "He is going to come back to Stanford to graduate though. I'm really happy for him and hope he can get on the field to play this season."


Spanos is in a win-lose situation playing behind one of the best running backs in the country this season. Unfortunate in the sense that he may not get a single carry this season, but fortunate in that he has one of the most polished backs in America from whom to learn. Like most incoming freshmen, Spanos has tempered expectations, but is confident he can contribute immediately.


"Toby [Gerhart] is amazing and so are Blaise [Johnson] and our other backs,  so I just want to help make them better," he said. "I'm just hoping to make a big impact and show the coaches what I can do, but if I end up redshirting then so be it. I just want to make an impact, special teams or anywhere, and I expect nothing less from myself."


Besides being an entrepreneur and philanthropist, Spanos's grandfather was an exceptional athlete himself. He lettered in diving and swimming at Stockton's University of Pacific and also established himself as a fine amateur golfer. Alex Spanos won the Bob Hope Classic in 1977 and the Bob Hope British Pro-Am in 1980.


The younger Spanos is also a salty golfer and has heard word of the immaculate Stanford golf course. He is eager to walk in the footsteps of Tiger Woods, but won't even think about golf until the football season has concluded.


"After football season I will try to get as much in as I can," said Spanos, who holds a "little above par" handicap. "We have a golfing family all the way down so we have a lot of fun playing."


Another one of Spanos's pastimes outside of toting the pigskin is kickboxing. He got into the sport a couple of years ago through a family friend and admits it has turned into a love of his.


"Since I was little, I've always done karate," he said. "I phased out of that once I got older because I was doing football, baseball and golf, and once high school hit it was strictly football. [Kickboxing] really works on your quickness, speed, strength, toughness as well as your mental and physical shape. So it definitely translates to football."


The Cardinal contingent hopes to see Spanos kicking something on the football field for years to come.


"I am so excited, I can't wait," he said. "I've played football since I was eight-years-old and I've never been more excited for a season to come. It's crazy to think about it, I'm playing with the big boys now."

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