Sunday, January 20, 2013
Spears sees quick rise to prominence
By Gary Laney
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Kevin Spears said he always knew he had it in him.
"I wouldn't say I always knew I could be the best, but I always knew what I could be," said Spears, a late-bloomer wide receiver from New Orleans' Holy Cross High School who became LSU's 26th commitment of the 2013 class Saturday. "I knew I could catch footballs."
Not many others thought he could be an elite-level player until recently.
Football was always an afterthought for the 6-foot-3 Spears, who came on LSU's radar after a 60-catch senior season. He said he noticed LSU coaches on the sidelines for Holy Cross' first-round Louisiana Class 4A playoff game against Marrero Archbishop Shaw. He created a buzz with a spectacular, one-handed, stretched-out catch while tangled with a defender in a quarterfinal playoff game against Lake Charles LaGrange. By the time Holy Cross played its semifinal game against powerful New Orleans Karr, LSU knew him well.
"That's when they started giving me attention," he said.
The key, Spears said, was for him to give football his attention.
He played in junior high, but said it was "fun and games, something to do with my friends." He focused on basketball when he started high school, but said he had a hard time doing more than just coming off the bench. He said his future on the hardwood made him take a hard look at football.
"Football just has so many more scholarships," he said. "There were more opportunities."
So he came out for high school football for the first time in his junior year.
"I wasn't taking it too serious," he said. "It wasn't until after my junior year, I didn't have a very good year, that I knew I had to do something."
He devoted himself to football and the results were stunning.
At 6-foot-3 with good speed, long arms and -- perhaps as the result of staying in the athletic realm on the basketball court -- great ball skills, Spears became a dominant force. He frequently won jump balls over smaller cornerbacks but could also give a quick move, then blow past the secondary on post routes with surprising speed. He could take a short pass and do something with it.
Watching Spears on film, he didn't seem like a football neophyte. He looked and performed like he knew what he was doing. His calculation proved correct. Football could lead somewhere for him.
Interest started coming from small schools, then LSU recruited him, starting after the Karr game. But Louisiana Tech offered him Jan. 13 and he accepted, not knowing if he would get a better one. He did, the next day, from LSU. He was invited to visit LSU's campus this weekend and while on his visit, he committed.
To go from thinking football might get him a scholarship, to actually getting offered a scholarship to one of the nation's top programs is an accomplishment not lost on Spears.
"It's exciting, overwhelming," he said.
Not that he's overwhelmed by what's in front of him.
Buoyed by what he was able to accomplish in a short time in his senior high school season, Spears said he's coming to August to compete to see the field -- "I don't want to redshirt," he said -- and he's not being discouraged from being so ambitious.
" Right now, I'll be their biggest receiver," he said. "They have some other ones that might come, but now I would be."
Indeed, LSU lacked Spears' best attributes. The Tigers' main receivers were all around 6 feet tall. Spears will give the Tigers that big, red-zone target. The Tigers also have a commitment from 6-4 junior college receiver Quantavius Leslie, but after Leslie failed to graduate from his juco at the end of the fall semester as planned, his academic status is in doubt.
So if Spears is the lone big receiver for the Tigers next year, will he, with so little experience, be able to adjust to the college game fast enough?
"If I have trouble picking up the offense, I can still redshirt," he said. "But I think I can learn it. It's not rocket science."
For Spears, learning a lot of football in a short time is something he's done already. No reason for him to think he can't do it again.