Spavital, a GA for the Mountaineer football team, is serving as the quarterbacks coach this year. Where most other GAs are learning on the job and performing grunt work offloaded by the coaches, Spavital is teaching the WVU signal callers Dana Holgorsen's offense. This isn't the first time he's done so, either – he helped install the entire attack at Oklahoma State a year ago. So how does a guy in a position that's more likely to be cutting up video or preparing practice charts get to such a lofty state?
Part of it is heritage. Spavital comes from a coaching family with roots that run deep.
"My whole family is into coaching," Spavital said recently. "It started with my grandfather, James, who was Joe Namath's quarterback coach with the New York Jets. My father Steve is a high school coach in Oklahoma, and my brother, Zac, is an assistant coach at the University of Houston. I guess you could say it's in my blood, and it's what I've always wanted to do.
"That's why I was a quarterback in high school and college," Spavital continued. "My dad is a defensive guy and my brother is a defensive guy. My grandfather was an offensive guy, so I guess I kind of balance it out. I just love the game, and I love all the aspects of it. I just wanted to be a part of it."
The Spavital family has had a big impact on coaching at their various levels. Steve is something of a high school legend in Oklahoma, having served as defensive coordinator at state power Union before moving on to Broken Arrow, where he was again defensive coordinator before taking over the reins as head coach last year. He routinely receives compliments as one of the finest defensive minds in the country, and likely could have had his pick of college coaching jobs as well. Jake's brother, Zac, has moved up the coaching ranks quickly as well, having served as a GA at Oklahoma before taking a job as the cornerbacks coach of the Cougars in 2008.
It was at Houston where the Spavitals connected with Holgorsen, paving the way for Jake's current job at West Virginia.
"The way I got hooked on with Dana was through my brother, who coached with him at Houston," Spavital explained. "I was a GA there after I was a GA at Tulsa, and then when Dana got the Oklahoma State job I was the only coach that went with him. I was the only one who knew the offense other than Dana, so I worked with all of the offensive coaches at Oklahoma State to help install it. That was a great experience, and it really helped me with the offense."
Spavital has managed to cram two decades' worth of football learning into a few short years, and he credits those for helping him develop so quickly. He played for four different offensive coordinators during his college career at Missouri State, ("I got a business degree that I don't think I'm ever going to use," he laughs) and also got to see offense from a different perspective during his time as a GA at Houston.
"The most beneficial thing I did was coach the offensive line at Houston. It puts offense into a whole different perspective, especially with the run game. For example, knowing [the defense] is adding an extra guy into the box against the run game, you don't look at that as much as a quarterback. It taught me a lot."
Given his pedigree, a level of duties likely unequaled by any other GA in the country and a likely path to an assistant coaching job at West Virginia in 2011, it would have been easy for Spavital to become cocky about his status. A few minutes with him, however, puts any such notion to rest.
"I know I am really lucky to have this opportunity. It's rare for a GA to have this much responsibility this early," he said as he assessed his career. "The fortunate situation I am in is that I'm in a unique situation with Dana. I 'm coaching the quarterbacks full time, and there's not a GA in the country that does that, or an offensive coordinator that trusts a GA to coach a position of that stature. I'm a young coach, and it's a good situation to be in.
"I know a lot of it comes down to luck," he continued. "My brother had some too – he had the situation where he was a GA at Oklahoma, and when Coach Sumlin got the job at Houston, he went there and immediately became an assistant. Someone has to be fired for someone to be hired. I'm lucky, and I know that. It's a tough profession. You have to know the right people and everything has to fall into place."