Snow job brings Spencer to Nevada
August 25, 2004
RENO – As the plane descended into Reno-Tahoe International Airport, Caleb Spencer was treated to the sight of snow-covered mountains.
“I’d never seen snow before,” said the Hawaiian-born Spencer, who transferred to the University of Nevada from Palomar College in San Diego last spring. “Seeing the mountains covered in white was awkward for me. It was nice. It wasn’t just green mountains like back home.”
Moments after deplaning, Spencer was treated to the ringing of slot machines. Another first.
“I called my dad, told him about the slot machines and he told me that’s what Nevada is all about,” Spencer said.
Chris Ault, Nevada head coach, will be happy to know that slot machines don’t interest Spencer unlike some of his past and present players.
“I think they (my parents) assumed that I know to stay away from them,” said Spencer, who is in a battle with Talib Wise for one of three starting receiver slots. “I’m an island boy. We never did that back home. We might play for a lunch or something like that, but not for money.”
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Spencer readily admits that he misses home, but he’s certainly happy that he’s playing Division I football. You have to wonder though how he got away from the University of Hawaii. The Rainbows usually get all the best in-state players, and Spencer was second-team all-state quarterback at Kamehameha High in Honolulu.
“It’s a long story,” Spencer said, a slight grimace on his face. “Out of high school, they were kind of recruiting me. It was the middle of my senior year, and we had just beaten St. Louis (Hawaii’s perennial powerhouse), we were pretty much killing everybody and we were going to win state. We were up 14 or 21 points. I was on a little roll, fell and landed the wrong way.”
Spencer had torn a bicep and his rotator cuff. Season over. Dreams of succeeding Timmy Chang as the Rainbows’ quarterback were dashed.
“When I was a freshman, I watched Chang when he played our school,” Spencer said. “He picked us apart. He had an awesome offensive line.
“A cousin called me (after graduation) and told me about a junior college (Palomar) in San Diego, and asked if I wanted to go there. I didn’t know anything about the program.”
Still, the beach, ocean and surfing were just a stone’s throw away from the Palomar campus, and that was too much for Spencer to resist.
“I thought I was going to gray shirt (sit out the season),” said Spencer, who still couldn’t throw much. “I couldn’t stand being in shorts and a t-shirt hiking the ball to the quarterbacks. I loved this game too much (to sit).
“I asked the coach (Joe Early) if he would mind if I ran some routes. When (fall) camp came I was doing the same thing. The next thing you know I was a starting wide receiver. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d always wanted to play wide receiver.
“It (the transition) wasn’t hard. As a quarterback, you have to know where all the receivers are; what holes the receivers need to sit in.”
And, Spencer seemed a natural. He caught 42 passes for 772 yards and five scores, helping the three-time national champs into a bowl game. Palomar lost its bowl game, but Spencer caught eight passes for 178 yards and two scores, and caught the eye of Nevada assistant Kim McCloud in the process.
Spencer was used like Kordell Stewart at Palomar. He started at receiver, but would go back to quarterback when the coach wanted to run some option.
Again, Hawai’i was foremost in Spencer’s mind, however, after the season. The Rainbow Warriors wanted him to stay another year at Palomar, and the local school, San Diego State, also wanted him to play one more year of junior college ball.
Spencer wasn’t interested. He wanted out. He felt he was ready for Division I ball. He went home to Hawai’i, and his future seemed up in the air until McCloud called.
“He said they needed a receiver, and they’d love to have me,” said Spencer, who enrolled at Nevada in time for the spring semester.
The 6-1, 180-pound sophomore has been a pleasant surprise for the Wolf Pack. He had a sensational spring game, and will certainly see substantial playing time in Ault’s three-receiver sets.
“He’s making excellent progress,” Ault said. “We (coaches) were talking about that last night. He’s an excellent athlete.
“He’s picked up the offense much quicker since the spring. You have to be quick (off the ball). He’s finally moved away from thinking like a quarterback (like in the spring). He’s much more aggressive on his breaks.”
Credit that to the reps he got in the spring and a better understanding of the offense.
“I came to fall camp and everything was the same,” Spencer said. “I got more reps and I was more fluid in the offense.
“Coach Ault has such a great understanding of this offense. Anytime anybody has a question, you knew exactly what he was talking about by the time he finished explaining it.”
Ault said he hasn’t decided on his three starters, but made it perfectly clear that they all will see time each game. The “X” spot is up for grabs between Alex Rosenblum, Nichiren Flowers and Trevor Brackett, and the “Z” spot will be Dell McGee or Kyle Eklund. Ault also said that all three spots are interchangeable.
“We have some good competition going on,” Ault said. “A lot of times we do things by groups; by formation. I try to tell them it’s not whether you start or not but be ready because you are going to play.”
That’s music to Spencer’s ears.
“I love this offense,” said Spencer, who will usually be one of the outside receivers even though he was too embarrassed to reveal his 40-yard dash time. “Playing “F,” there is a good percentage of plays that go to the “F’ receiver. Rosey (Alex Rosenblum) caught a lot of balls there in the spring. I’m going to be a go-to guy, and I love being in that position.
“I think I have good quickness, and if you come off the line hard, you’re not going to be able to tell the difference between a 4.4 guy and a 4.8 guy.”
And, Ault probably doesn’t care what Spencer runs as long he gets the job done,
Contact Darrelly Moody at email@example.com or 881-1281.