ENGLEWOOD , Colo. — Something happened when Marquiss Spencer looked up at the sky on Dec. 20, 2020. His football career, long shaped by his country strength and early morning workouts, appeared over.
He was carted off the field, cratering his brain with concern.
“When I injured my neck in the game, I was really scared. I thought that I wouldn’t play football anymore,” Spencer told Denver7 as part of his Meet The Pick segment that runs Wednesday at 6 p.m.
“I gave it to God and asked him to help me. And he told me to be faithful and trust the process, and I am right here today," he said.
It took a few weeks to become comfortable physically, even longer mentally. But Spencer remained determined to reach his goal of the NFL. He experienced a star-crossed career at Mississippi State, showing flashes, but failing to log regular snaps. There was a promise, though.
The Broncos liked his size and his potential, selecting the 6-foot-4, 301-pounder in the seventh round with the 253rd overall pick. He joins a talented defensive line group, facing a challenge to make the roster. However, the opportunity exists, even if Denver caught him off guard after only one Zoom interview with the team.
“When the number came up, I was really shocked. 'Who’s number is this?' I thought. Then I saw Denver. I was like OK, OK, OK. So I answered it, and coach (Fangio) was like, ‘Marquiss, how are you doing?' And my heart dropped to my stomach,” Spencer recalled. “It was like, ‘Oh my God, my dream is really coming true.'"
Paton wanted reinforcements, and increased competition after the Broncos were decimated by injuries to Mike Purcell (foot), who promises to be ready for the season, and Jurrell Casey (biceps), who remains unsigned.
His message to Spencer was simple, “Be ready to work.”
For Spencer, it hit home. Or specifically, it took him back home. The outgoing Spencer played sports, but football was fun, not a passion entering his freshman year. A high school coach changed all that.
“He was my motivator. He came to my house at 5:30 in the morning one day. He was like, ‘Get your tail up and work out.’ And I told him I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to play football. He explained, it’s the difference between your momma staying at this house or living in a mansion,” Spencer said. “My momma and my grandma said get my tail up and go so I couldn’t say no to them. So I was going from then.”
Spencer blossomed into a star at Greenwood High School in Mississippi. His size and strength were hard not to notice, but they were overshadowed by his versatility. He played multiple positions from defensive end to outside linebacker, cornerback, tight end, receiver and kicker. Yes, kicker.
“Yes, sir. I could kick 60 yarders. And I punted, too,” Spencer said with a laugh. “I did a little bit of everything.”
The focus narrowed at Mississippi State where Spencer, a four-star recruit, found a home. He became a scholar athlete as a three-time member of the SEC honor roll, and delivered bursts of dominance on the field.
He played interior line early in his career, before switching to defensive end. He finished with 110 tackles, including a career-best 8.5 for a loss and three sacks in 2020.
There are hints he could become a late bloomer as he refines his technique.
“First, I need to work on my hands. I have to shoot my hands more. And I have to react faster,” Spencer said. “I know at this level I have to give it the best I’ve got. And I love the physical part of it. Just love it.”
Even via Zoom, Spencer’s personality jumps off the screen. He easily jumps between topics, enjoying the banter on:
- Facing the 2019 LSU National Championship team: “Wooh, Joe Burrow was really that guy. I told my coach he was going to be a problem in the NFL.”
- Broncos first round choice Patrick Surtain: “Oh, he raw. He raw. He fine. I like him very much. He’s a very good player, very good player. And I am glad we got him.”
- What it will be like walking out of the tunnel at Empower Field at Mile High: “It will be a grateful moment. I am going to thank God for that, first. I don’t know what I might do. I might cry. I don’t know. I can’t wait to see the fans, family, friends. And be ready to go with my teammates.”
With the interview winding down, I asked Spencer about his first name – Marquiss. Like the man himself, it is unique.
“So, let me tell a story,” Spencer said, leaning forward in his chair with a smile. “You know the car is named Grand Marquis, right? They liked it. So all they did was add an ‘S’ to it… So, Marquiss. So that’s where I get it from.”