Spencer Webb is a young man of few words, but great substance.
Over the weekend, the three-star tight end from Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento gave his verbal commitment to the University of Oregon. While the commitment is not binding, it was an indication of just how far the young man has come.
The biggest scourge faced by far too many people – drug addiction – could have led to an ending far worse than where Webb is headed. I wrote a couple of days ago about the growing problem of football and drugs. Oregon fans saw close up how swiftly drugs can destroy a career when Colt Lyerla, one of the most supremely talented athletes to ever come out of the state of Oregon, found himself staring at a judge facing prison time within a few short years of his Oregon career coming to an unceremonious conclusion.
Webb, who is nearly identical in size to what Lyerla was coming out of high school, six-feet-five-inches tall and 235 pounds, has been living with his brother and aunt for much of his developmental stages. “Right now I go to a college prep school to get me prepared for college,” Webb said. “It’s pretty challenging.”
Not nearly as challenging, however, as his personal life. “My parents are out of the picture due to substance abuse issues,” Webb told me. Often times in these circumstances, we only see those negative effects. We see the parents, but we rarely see the children afflicted by their parent’s demons. Occasionally, those demons are too much to overcome, as was the case with Lyerla.
Not so with Webb. “I'm being raised by my brother and sister-in-law. They are my rock,” Webb confided. “I've lived at my aunts for about eleven years and with my brother since 8th grade,” he continued. Think for a moment about the reality that at three or four years old, Webb had to deal with the utter pain of his parents choosing drugs and alcohol over a child; having to live with his brother and aunt.
But it could be worse. Webb could have found himself floundering in a foster care system that is woefully underfunded and inadequately supervised. In that respect, Webb is lucky. “My brother helps point that other kids have it worse,” he said speaking of his brother.
With over 55,000 children in foster care, California has the highest rate of all states in the nation. Statistics show that children in foster care face disproportionately high rates of mental illnesses with some studies showing as many as 48 percent of foster care youth showing signs of serious emotional or behavioral issues. [i]
Foster care is only available until children are 18, at which point they must find their own way without much support or guidance. Some research shows that adults who were in the foster care system still face difficulty and instability in their adult lives. Given that only about 50 percent of foster care youth graduate from high school and less than 10 percent graduating from college,[ii] Webb’s road is already one of success. But he has much higher goals than to simply graduate from high school.
In stepped football and a chance to overcome significant adversity. Webb will tell you that he is lucky; he did not get stuck in the non-relative foster care system which could have left him scared, confused and alone. He had his ‘rock’ to help guide him.
“It’s tough,” he confides. “My parents left me, skipped town; left me at my 70 year old grandmas at a very young age. I was maybe three or four years old and my aunt stepped in,” he said. “Yeah, I guess it made me feel like they passed away more than they choose to pick substance over raising kids,” he continued.
Webb’s Christian Brothers team lost their first two games last season before reeling off an 11-game winning streak. It was during that streak where Webb began to shine for the Falcons on their way to their first section final in 30 years. Webb caught a 14-yard touchdown pass to give his team a 14-7 lead before Oakdale put down the clamps on defense and rolled to a 51-14 win to advance.
On the field, he plans for another good season. “We have a solid team returning. Should make a playoff push. Got a stud transfer QB from the Pace Academy in Georgia. Our sophomore free safety had 12 interceptions,” he continued. “But we will need to develop at the offensive line. I plan on being a monster on both sides of the ball to get us to our goal.”
Off the field? Webb will fit right in to the outdoor friendly state of Oregon. An avid fisherman, he really likes to take in the tranquility and beauty of those moments. I suppose this is a part of his ability to overcome such adversity.
One thing to know about Webb is that adversity will not be something which stands in his way; he has already been through a considerable amount early in life. It is that challenge, those adversities which make or break people, and Webb has worked very hard to get to this moment. In fact, he even spent spring break, a time when many in high school might consider playing video games and ‘pigging out,’ working in a fabrication shop – helping build marina docks, a far cry from vegging out on the couch.
Like many young men, this story could have turned out different. Spencer Webb is one of those stories you have to find inspiring; not because he is good at football. Forget the stars; forget the size; forget everything you know and think to how many young men with just as much, or more, talent find themselves homeless, abused, damaged and too misunderstood to ever make an impact on the world.
“Like any family, there are some tough days but they really enjoy it,” Webb continued in our conversation. “My brother has helped me with some of my inherited demons and also the effects of abandonment. But me and my family; we grind each day on the field, classroom and life topics.”
Spencer Webb stared down demons beyond his control to reach the pinnacle; a college football scholarship. What he does with that scholarship is now in his hands, and you have to like his chances.