By R. Alan Richardson
For Stewart Spence, winning a National Championship for Valdosta State University (VSU) was anything but easy. It was a road full of pit stops, hard work, injuries, rehab, and more. Throughout the process, he never doubted himself. And neither did his parents or big brother. If you ask him if it was worth it, he’d give you a resounding, “Yes.”
The record-breaking, Division II Championship season culminated in VSU defeating Ferris State in McKinney, Texas 49-47 in a high-octane thriller that went down to the last play. According to reports and Spence, it was the fourth National Championship since 2004 for the Blazers. It is also the first time that the University has gone undefeated and won the Trophy. After 16 games, VSU broke numerous offensive records in the Gulf South Conference and led the nation in scoring in all classifications with a lofty 52.4 points per game.
He said, “It was a crazy week. I couldn’t believe how many calls, texts, and social media hits from my hometown community in Morgan County after the game. I didn’t know that many people would be watching the game on ESPN.”
Spence, a homegrown product of the Morgan County Bulldogs, started at fullback for the majority of the season and was a force on special teams throughout his career. The 6’0” 231 pounder graduated in 2013 under the tutelage of Head Coach Bill Malone, Offensive Coordinator John Robbins, and Defensive Coordinator Doug Huff. Malone said, “Stewart is the most relentless player I have coached. I’ve never seen him take a rep off in the weight room or on the field. He excelled on the football and baseball fields for us as well as on the wrestling mats. He’s a throwback kind of guy… tough, humble, and hardworking. And to top all of that he is a heck of a good man. To see him help VSU win the National Championship was awesome.”
Spence spent his first two years of college attending Oconee’s North Georgia Campus on a limited basis. With the urging of his brother Dudley, he decided to transfer to Valdosta in 2015 and try making the team as a walk-on. Dudley was an All-Conference player at VSU. Stewart said, “He knew I could make the team and play at that level. Without him, I don’t see myself at Valdosta State or being the man I am today. He’s made a big impact on my life, but especially through football. I can’t thank him enough.”
It wasn’t easy working his way from the bottom up, but he made the team his first season, traveled, and played on special teams as a third string outside linebacker. A full coaching change occurred in his sophomore year Spence again had to prove himself. He earned a spot back on special teams, but didn’t travel with the squad. A big break came in the eighth week of the season when the coaches asked him to fill in and run fullback on the scout team to help the defense out. They were so impressed with what he could do at the position, the next week he was starting at fullback. That’s where he stayed for the next two seasons.
Spence described his role in the spread offensive attack as a heavy lead running blocker, runner, and key receiver on check downs. He caught a 15-yarder in the National Championship win. The fifth year senior had four touchdowns and 175 receiving yards for the year.
Again, the season wasn’t a cake walk for him. He had an ACL tear in week six that sidelined him for two games. After another bye week and some rehab, he was able to play the last six games of the season with a torn ACL by wearing a brace and anticipates surgery sometime after the holidays in early January.
His play on special teams earned him a pre-season nomination as an All-Conference special team’s utility player, but getting hurt hindered his achieving that goal. Spence led the team in special teams tackles his junior year and was named one of only three permanent team Captains (voted on by his teammates) his senior year.
When asked about some of his favorite moments, he commented, “In the National Championship game we recovered the onside kick to secure the game and I was right on top of the ball. That was pretty special. Another for me would have to be scoring a touchdown against Lenoir Rhyne. It was incredible to score and impact the team after going through so much with my knee. At one point I didn’t know if I’d even be able to play again, much less catch a pass and score a touchdown from seven yards out.
I would like to give a big thank you to my parents who have always supported and backed me 100 percent throughout my career and this season. I’d also like to thank my position coach, John Peacock, who was diagnosed with cancer during the season. He was dealing with chemo treatments throughout the second half of the season. I’m grateful and thankful for him the past two years and the bond we’ve created this past season.”
Father Bill and mother Rhonda left us with these words, “Words cannot begin to tell you how proud and happy we are for Stewart. It started in Morgan County Recreation ball all the way through college and the National Championship in McKinney, Texas. We always knew Stewart was a champion! And we are proud of the good man he has become. Congratulations to Stewart and we cannot wait to see what his future holds. GOD Bless you, We Love You!”