VAN WERT – Maybe some of his teammates didn’t see it, but Chris Spielman noticed two of the young graduate assistants when he was at Ohio State were going to be future stars in the coaching profession.
When Spielman was a freshman on OSU’s football team in 1984, one of the Buckeyes’ graduate assistants was Mark Dantonio. By his junior and senior seasons, Dantonio had moved on, but Urban Meyer had joined Earle Bruce’s staff as a graduate assistant.
“That’s two pretty good ones,” Spielman said, with a smile, a half-hour before speaking at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center on Monday night.
“I was a little further along than your average freshman because my father was a coach. So I knew what I liked in coaches and I thought I wanted to be a coach. So I would always watch coaches.
“Mark and Urban both had a presence about them, a coach’s presence. It tended to show they were leaders, even at that young age. Their success is not surprising to me at all.”
Spielman was an All-American linebacker at Ohio State and had a 10-year NFL career.
Football consumed his life during those years. But personal tragedy transformed him when his wife Stefanie battled cancer for 12 years before her death at age 42 in 2009.
Probably 90 percent of his 40-minute speech was devoted to the message he formulated from the experiences he and Stefanie and their four children went through in those 12 years.
“What we try to share is Stefanie’s story and Stefanie and my story and our children’s, how we dealt with it and the growth process,” Spielman said.
He speaks around 15 times a year on those topics and has traveled as far as Los Angeles, Boston, Washington D.C. and Portland to deliver what he calls “a message of hope.”
“I don’t think anybody signs up for this job and says, ‘Hey, I’ll be the widower and go around and speak and share my story.’ I have a great faith and there’s a purpose and a reason for everything we went through. And I can share it or shove it under the rug,” Spielman said.
Obviously, he has chosen to share it.
His former Ohio State and Detroit Lions teammate William White once said with Chris Spielman, you never get half of him, you get all of him.
That was on display in the way he opened up about his life story on Monday night, revealing details, like how he once was so obsessed with football he continued a workout instead of comforting his wife after a miscarriage.
Or telling the story about how upon learning Stefanie’s cancer had returned, he pulled his car into an alley on Lane Avenue in Columbus, climbed into the back seat, curled up into the fetal position and cried about it.
He ended the formal part of the evening on a note of hope and encouragement.
“You’re not alone. In life, we all have to be on our guard. We know bad things happen in life, so we live one day at a time and enjoying that day. You have to stand firm in your faith. That will be your solid rock and foundation when everything else crumbles,” he said.
“You have to be men and women of strength. You get that strength from your faith, your families, your husbands, your wives, your sons, your daughters, your sisters and brothers. This world is not for the weak or timid. Above all, do everything with love. If you do that, you will be able to overcome any challenge that comes your way. How do I know? I lived it.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.