Emerging Nebraska Playmaker JD Spielman Has Ohio State Ties

By Dan Hope on October 11, 2017 at 8:35 am
Nebraska's JD Spielman makes a catch against Northern Illinois.

Bruce Thorson – USA TODAY Sports

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JD Spielman nearly became a member of the Ohio State lacrosse team.

Instead, he’s preparing to play against the Ohio State football team this Saturday.

A nephew of legendary Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman, JD Spielman had plans to become a student-athlete at the same school where his uncle once starred when he committed to play lacrosse for Ohio State in 2013. JD’s older brother Ronnie had already committed to play for the Ohio State lacrosse team, and JD had visions of playing alongside his brother while continuing his family’s Buckeye legacy.

JD Spielman’s ultimate dream, however, was to play Division I college football. So when he began receiving offers from major college football programs, he decided to decommit from Ohio State’s lacrosse team and follow his football dream at Nebraska, where the Buckeyes play the Cornhuskers on Saturday night.

"When I finally got the chance and I finally got my first offer and the other offers came in, I just had a switch of heart," Spielman told Eleven Warriors on Tuesday. "I mean, it wasn’t really a switch of heart because I always wanted to play football, but when I got the opportunity, I knew I wanted to take it."

Now a redshirt freshman at Nebraska, Spielman is the Cornhuskers’ starting slot back – their equivalent to Ohio State’s H-back – and quickly emerging as one of his team’s most dynamic playmakers.

In his very first collegiate game against Arkansas State, Spielman returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Spielman has already returned eight kickoffs for 275 yards and a touchdown, caught 20 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown and run the ball five times for 19 yards through the Cornhuskers’ first six games.

"He’s a real competitor," Nebraska coach Mike Riley said of Spielman after the Cornhuskers’ loss last week to Wisconsin, in which Spielman caught six passes for 79 yards. "He’s going to get better and better as he understands how to play in that slot and the things that he can do in that slot. He’s a tough kid. He’s smart. He’s really a great guy to have on our team."

Tanner Lee, Nebraska’s starting quarterback, describes Spielman as "the perfect third-down threat."

"He’s so quick and shifty," Lee said this week. "I think we have been doing a good job of moving him around and finding different ways to get him open, and he has been doing a great job making those clutch catches and moving the chains. So he is just a great player in that way."

In addition to his quickness, which Spielman considers to be the strength of his game, Spielman also has the advantage of being raised by a family that knows more than a thing or two about high-level football. His father Rick Spielman, who adopted JD as an infant, is the general manager of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. His uncle was an All-American linebacker at Ohio State, played in the NFL for a decade and is now an NFL analyst for Fox Sports.

"I’ve been around NFL players and stuff like that my entire life, so growing up … when I started my football career, I always had NFL players that I could see up close and personal and I could talk to them, get a chance to model my game after them," Spielman said.

A late riser on the recruiting trail from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Spielman received scholarship offers from numerous Big Ten schools – including Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota in addition to Nebraska – but did not receive an offer from Ohio State, who instead took Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor as wide receivers in his recruiting class.

Yet although Spielman once had his sights set on becoming a Buckeye in another sport, he says he didn’t allow himself to be disappointed over not receiving a football offer from Ohio State. Instead, he’s used it as fuel toward his desire to be a great football player at Nebraska.

"Now when I go out there and play against other teams, I play like I got something to prove," Spielman said. "Now when I go out there and play, I play like I make them want to wish that they would have offered me. So I kind of use that as my advantage."

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Spielman will have his opportunity to prove himself against Ohio State on Saturday, but he’s looking forward to his opportunity to play against the school he nearly attended because of his family ties as much as anything else. He hadn’t yet had the opportunity to talk to his uncle about playing against his alma mater as of Tuesday, but said he anticipated having at least one conversation with Chris before Saturday night’s game.

"I’m excited," Spielman said. "Especially since half my family’s associated with Ohio State, so just knowing that, I know they’re going to be home watching the game back in Columbus and it’s definitely going to be a big game."

There are times, Spielman says, when he misses playing lacrosse. He couldn’t help but think about the sport he gave up when he watched Ohio State play Maryland – the other school he considered attending to play lacrosse – in this past spring’s NCAA men’s lacrosse national championship game. But he says he has no regrets about choosing to play football in Lincoln instead.

"If I would have stayed, I would have had a shot at that (playing for a national championship in lacrosse), but there’s nothing that beats playing football in front of 92,000," Spielman said.

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