Phil Anastasia: Eustace QB Spellman guided by books over football

Chris Spellman picked Div. III's the College ofNew Jersey.
Chris Spellman picked Div. III's the College ofNew Jersey.
Posted: February 05, 2012

Chris Spellman was like lots of other red-blooded American 12-year-olds. He had football posters on all four walls of his mind and football dreams in all four chambers of his heart.

He was going to play in college. He was going to get a scholarship. He was going Division I.

As it turned out, Spellman was right about one thing: He was good enough to play college football. He was good enough to earn a scholarship. He was good enough to go Division I.

But the twist to this story at the end of a week dominated by the breathless speculation, coverage, and analysis of the NCAA's national signing day for football was that Spellman decided his own dream wasn't right for him.

The quarterback from Bishop Eustace Prep School turned down three Division I scholarship offers and has opted to play Division III football and focus on his academics.

"Me and my dad [Eric] sat down and talked about it," Spellman said. "It's always been a dream of mine to play Division I football. But it was time to wake up from that dream."

The 6-2, 220-pound Spellman, who lives in Mount Laurel, passed for 978 yards and ran for 328 yards this past season. He's a big, strong kid with the athletic ability to function at the Division I level.

He had offers from Wagner, St. Francis, and Sacred Heart, all programs that compete at the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) of Division 1. Money was on the table. All he had to do with sign to become a scholarship football player.

And isn't that every youth-league athlete's hope? Is that every youth-league parent's prayer?

Spellman said he was thrilled to get the offers. He liked all three schools. He knows they are strong academic institutions.

But he believes the College of New Jersey is a better fit for him, especially from an academic standpoint. He wants to be an engineer or a doctor and he felt that TCNJ would offer him a better opportunity to pursue those careers.

Never mind that the Lions are a Division III program that doesn't offer scholarship money, that plays in a small stadium that could fit on any high school campus, that competes in the New Jersey Athletic Conference with the likes of Rowan and Montclair State.

"Chris has a ton of potential and all the [college] coaches have seen that," Bishop Eustace coach Rob Cormier said. "He made a very mature decision to choose a school with his exact academic programs rather than simply jumping at the chance to play at a higher level of football.

"He is going to be a very successful college quarterback, get an incredible education, and get a chance to compete for four more years in the sport he loves."

Spellman didn't want to disparage the academic standing of the schools that made offers. He just felt that TCNJ and Muhlenberg (Pa.), his second choice, were the best options for him.

"It was a very difficult decision," Spellman said. "Those other schools are good schools. But for me, it was always going to be academics first and then football."

Spellman said he remembered reading former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz' book, Winning Every Day, shortly before he entered Bishop Eustace. He said he remembered Holtz' motto: "W-I-N," an acronym for "What's Important Now."

Spellman said he thought about that when he was making his college decision. He knew he loved football. He knew academics were more important.

It was a personal decision, right for Spellman and not for anybody else.

Still, there was a lesson there for everybody: Dreams are great and all, but big decisions are best made by adults, not 12-year-olds.


Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports

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