Professionally speaking, there is no denying that Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Sean Spence has gone through a lot of turmoil in his young career. A former third-round draft pick, he suffered a devastating knee injury in the final preseason game of his rookie year.
The torn ligaments were worrying enough, but we learned later on that he also suffered nerve damage behind his knee cap as a result of the freak injury.
And when he finally returned in his second season, even to practice, he suffered a finger injury that prevented him from taking full advantage of the opportunity to experience football activities. After his three-week practice window closed, he was placed back on injured reserve, still not knowing if he would ever play again.
In the interim, the Steelers used two draft picks in successive years on inside linebackers. Vince Williams was drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 draft and started several games as a rookie. Ryan Shazier was a first-round selection last season and was installed as the starter immediately.
It seemed that the opportunity there to be seized had passed him by, all the while being unsure if he would ever even play football again. But as faith would have it, he not only returned to the game that he has played since he was six years old, he even played a starting role in the defense.
Entering his fourth season now, Spence has the opportunity to compete for that starting job, and to do so in a manner in which he has never had the chance to before. Because in reality, this is the first time in his career that the young man will have a normal offseason like the rest of his teammates.
And he may never have gotten there were it not for the mental resolve that carried him out of the dark moments of the previous two years leading up to the 2014 season, when he questioned in anger why it was he who suffered that freak injury.
But as time went on, the question that occupied his thoughts evolved from “why me?” to “why not me?”, as in—as he told Teresa Varley—“why couldn’t I be the guy that comes back from this type of injury and beat all odds?”
Indeed, it is most difficult to find many parallels to Spence experience, much less examples that have the subject emerge victorious at the end of the line. What the former Miami Hurricane has come back from, personally and professionally, is already remarkable, but that is in the past now.
What Spence is focusing on now is the future, and what he can still accomplish in the sport that he grew up playing and fell in love with. With a full offseason at his exposure to get stronger, to master the nuances of scheme and position, and to generally improve himself, there is no doubt that he is entering the most critical moment of his career, now that he knows there is a career there to be had.