Kai Spencer is a vintage, hard-nosed football player — and he might be just what the still-green Eastmont football team needs to sustain its success from last season.
Spencer was the only junior to be voted captain on last year’s senior-laden Big Nine-winning Wildcats squad. At 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, Spencer doesn’t dominate by overpowering the opponent; rather, the undersized defensive back makes an impact by being tough and having a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
“He just gets results,” Eastmont head coach Doug McGill said. “We’re looking for big things out of him this year.”
McGill described Spencer as an “all-American throwback” athlete because he’s a starter on the basketball and baseball team after football is over. When asked which sport he invests most of his attention on, Spencer made it clear that he was a young man who intended to live and thrive in the moment.
“I go from sport to sport, so whatever I’m in, that’s what my focus is on,” Spencer said, shrugging off the notion that he had a primary sport. “I try not to think about other sports when I’m in the season for one.”
Spencer’s friend and teammate Nolan Wirth said that kind of attitude was exactly what you could expect from Kai, who Wirth described as “focused” and “determined on what he’s working on at the time.”
“That’s why I love him,” McGill said about Spencer’s single-mindedness. “That’s what a three-sport athlete needs to do. When baseball is over, he put away his glove and grabbed his cleats and came to practice and went hard. And when it’s over here, he’ll grab his basketball sneakers, head to the gym and start it all over again. And that’s the way it should be. He’s good at going about his business.”
Spencer’s business is being an understated, yet constant calming presence for the younger players — which there are an abundance of on this year’s team — for Eastmont’s football team. By talking to and observing the senior in practice, you can tell that he has totally bought into McGill’s “team first” mantra.
For example, it looked like Spencer swallowed a bug when asked what it’s like to be the man after the departure of so many key players to graduation.
“I wouldn’t consider myself the man, we’re a team and a brotherhood,” he said. “There is no one guy. Whatever we do, we’re going to do together.”
Having a player who has such a habit of dismissing arrogance has to be a dream for McGill.
“He has totally embraced that,” the coach said about Spencer’s full-force acceptance of the team-centric philosophy. “But I think that’s easy for him, because that’s what he’s made out of and that’s who he is. He is a family guy, he’s a good friend and a hard worker.”
While Spencer would never explicitly admit it, his scrappy play is infectious to the young players around him. When asked how he would describe the way he plays, he didn’t say he wants to make the big play or make the flashy interception, he said he just wants to maintain maximum effort.
“I just try to be as tenacious as possible, go my hardest every single play, never quit even if we’re losing by 49 points,” he said.
That kind of attitude is exactly what McGill says he needs to make sure he continues to have a young stable of hard workers coming back every summer.
“My son is a sophomore and looks up to him big time,” McGill said. “Just the way he goes about his work, he’s a man of few words, he’s more abut showing and competing and leading by example.”
What’s also impressive about Spencer is that he wasn’t always a football superstar. He played in seventh-grade — when he was just “alright,” but considering the remarkably humble Spencer said that, he could’ve been the best player in the county — and didn’t play for Eastmont until his sophomore year. But, he played on varsity that year and has made an impact since. Despite having so much varsity experience, Spencer still gets excited by the thought of playing under the lights of Eastmont Stadium.
“Coaches were giving us the game plan on Monday, and I was already getting the jitters and the butterflies,” Spencer said. “Our last first home game — that’s something you want to go out playing and feeling good.”
Spencer and his fellow seniors will get their chance to make a final, first imprint tonight vs. Davis.