Posted by: marcmwm | December 26, 2008

Spievey worth the wait

Back in his element

Back in his element

By Marc Morehouse
Photo

(Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa’s Amari Spievey tackles Keith Smith of Purdue during the second quarter of a Big Ten football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Nov. 15. Defensive coordinator Norm Parker called Spievey a “pleasant surprise.”

Fort Dodge is as good a place as any to learn a lesson.

Amari Spievey spent the 2007 school year there, attending Iowa Central Community College. His lesson was, yeah, school is a big part of being a major-college football player.

“I wanted to finish up what I started,” the Iowa sophomore said. “My mom always told me not to give up. I started here. I want to finish here.”

Spievey (pronounced Spuh-vay) spent the 2006 red-shirting as a cornerback. He nearly earned a spot on the depth chart in fall camp. Then in June, head coach Kirk Ferentz announced that Spievey and running back Shonn Greene were leaving school for academic reasons.

The Middletown, Conn., native could’ve gone back east to work on his grades. He could’ve given in to homesickness and ankle problems that frustrated his freshman year. Instead, he sucked it up and went to Fort Dodge.

Fort Dodge wasn’t what Spievey had on his mind after earning Connecticut prep player of the year in 2006, when he rushed for 1,642 yards and 26 touchdowns while helping Xavier High School to a state title.

“I won’t say it was horrible, but it wasn’t Iowa,” Spievey said. “I’d much rather be here. I’m glad I’m back here.”

Even with a girlfriend in school in Iowa City, Spievey didn’t mope.

He had to pass a couple summer classes to become eligible to play for Iowa Central. In his season with the Tritons, he earned All-American honors, intercepting seven passes. He returned two for TDs and returned two kickoffs for TDs. He also blocked four punts.

Against North Iowa Area Community College, Spievey was thrown at five times. He intercepted three. He ended the first half against Rock Valley with a 94-yard interception return. He started the second half with a 96-yard kick return.

He also earned his associate degree with a 3.0 GPA.

“He is definitely a Division I football player,” Iowa Central Coach Kevin Twait said. “He’s real fine in man coverage and zone coverage. He has the ability to jump and is a great tackler for us.”

Spievey said he focused on fundamentals, on and off the field.

“I just kept pushing, stayed focused,” he said. “It was a character builder.”

Let’s not downplay the girlfriend thing. She moved from home to attend Iowa, where she majors in athletic training. And let’s really not downplay the mom thing. Romonda Spievey was on the Iowa coaches’ side all through this. She was supportive but firm in her desire for her son to return to Iowa City and buy into the books.

“She said she knew I was going to make it back,” Spievey said. “She’s proud of me.”

When you had to leave, was it a pep talk or more a kick in the butt?

“Kick in the butt,” he said. “I didn’t even want to go home. I was scared to go home, but she supports me, like always. (With the girlfriend) I had a lot of support.”

When he was at Central, Iowa coaches told Spievey the door was open for him to return to Iowa City, if, of course, he proved himself in the classroom. He learned last December that he’d be welcomed back.

Spievey, 6-0, 190 pounds, wasn’t on the two-deep going into fall camp in August. Coming out and going into the opener against Maine, Spievey was starting cornerback, passing sophomore Jordan Bernstine on the depth chart.

Spievey owned the position.

He started all 12 games, finishing tied for third on the team with 65 tackles, tying outside linebacker A.J. Edds. He was second on the team with four interceptions, had five pass breakups and a forced fumble.

Spievey put a exclamation point on his first season with a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown just before halftime against Minnesota, basically putting the Gophers away with a 27-0 halftime lead.

“I was just dropping back, keeping everything in front of me and I saw the quarterback overthrow the receiver,” he said. “Then, I just went and got the ball.”

Spievey was close to returning a pick for a TD against Pittsburgh. He was again really, really close against Illinois. He finally cashed in against the Gophers, showing return skills that could, potentially, win him the punt return job next season.

“It was overdue,” he said. “Last game of the season, I’m glad I got it.”

It was the kind of play that makes an offensive coordinator’s job that much easier.

“Anyone remember the Rolaids commercials? How do you spell relief? I spell it D-E-F-E-N-S-E,” Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe said. “When you play great defense, you can do some great things. Minnesota, we won’t play any better than that on defense. My favorite play of the year was Spievey’s touchdown on the interception. That’s one less score that we don’t have to worry about.”

Defensive coordinator Norm Parker said Spievey’s steady-to-spectacular play was unexpected. He credited Spievey’s catch-up job, transitioning from Fort Dodge to second-team all-Big Ten.

“Spievey was a pleasant surprise,” Parker said. “We talked about Spievey, but we didn’t know that he would have that kind of year. He’s been a real pleasant surprise.”

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Responses

  1. I’ve been impressed with the extra effort some of the player’s have made after realizing the error of their ways this year. Ideally a University is about learning in all facets, but many get lost in the large crowds.

    I want to know how it is that a player’s name pronunciation changes over time? Kenny Iwebema apparently let people mispronounce his name for the first year and corrected them later. Is that part of the reductions with the media guide?

  2. Marc — It’s the player’s option in my mind. Spievey has always been Spuh-vay. Iwebema, that just sort of came out of the blue after a year or so of mispronounciation.

    That might not be in the media guide. The reduction included all relevant info, so, yeah, there’s that. Iowa does put out what’s called a “fact book.” That’s very helpful.

  3. […] a story on Spievey’s return from academic limbo at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge. […]


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