In a sport where professional and college players alike are routinely penalized for excessive celebration and unsportsmanlike conduct, Sacred Heart freshman running back Keshaudas Spence is an anomaly.
A powerful downhill runner with a remarkable ability to shed tackles and make big plays, Spence has taken the Northeast Conference (NEC) by storm this season. He rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns against Dartmouth two weeks ago, on his way to winning NEC Rookie of the Week honors in his first college start. Spence’s breakout game turned the Pioneers’ season around—they enter Saturday’s game against the Lions fresh off a historic victory over Central Connecticut State to put them at 2-2. While Spence didn’t put up the same gaudy numbers against their in-state rival, totalling only 18 yards on 16 carries, he still figures to be a major threat to the Lions’ porous rushing defense this weekend.
“He doesn’t play like a freshman,” Columbia head coach Norries Wilson said. “He does a lot of good things.”
An outstanding athlete, Spence’s greatest gift is his mental approach to football. He has already learned many valuable lessons that take other college athletes years to master.
Pioneers’ head coach Paul Gorham emphasizes the fact that “he’s got great motivation, he doesn’t get dissuaded easily.”
Raised in Dorchester, Mass., Spence credits his grandparents for instilling in him the values that have guided him to success. One of those is faith, a source of great strength for Spence.
“I pray every night before I go to bed,” he said. “I thank God for everything, I feel like He’s blessed me with the ability to play football.”
The running back’s grandparents also taught him the resilience that is so evident in Spence’s attitude and playing style.
“My grandmother was blind, it was pretty rough back home,” Spence said. “Football was the only way out.”
Spence’s grandfather recognized that football represented a unique opportunity for his 9-year-old, 110-pound grandson. Spence credits his grandfather for being the driving force behind his career, but football wasn’t always No. 1 on his mind. “The day he passed, when I was 14, I didn’t want to play football anymore,” Spence recalls.
However, Spence persevered and went on to star in high school at Catholic Memorial, winning All-Conference and Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Entering his freshman season at Sacred Heart this fall, Spence was third on the depth chart, forced to learn a new position after being converted from a defensive lineman. Characteristically, he embraced the opportunity to step up and prove himself. After a disappointing 0-2 start and a myriad of injuries depleted the roster, Spence got his first shot as a starter in the Pioneers’ homecoming game against Dartmouth.
He did not miss the chance to prove himself.
“When you get that opportunity to step up and help your team out that’s great,” Spence said.
While many other athletes would bask in the glory of being the big man on campus, Spence downplays his personal accomplishments in favor of emphasizing the team’s success, and his humble attitude is not lost on his teammates. “The kids feed off of him, they rally around him,” Gorham said. “It’s his ball right now, if he keeps performing.”
With his combination of athletic talent and outstanding maturity, there is little doubt in the Sacred Heart locker room that he will.