In 2005, when Howard Spencer was cut from the Thomas Dale baseball team as a sophomore, a coach gave him a bit of advice that would remain with him.
“(They) told me that I would only be able to play football at the next level, so he told me to focus on playing football,” said Spencer, the advice coming exactly one year after he had made the junior varsity team as a freshman.
He then spent the next two and a half years of high school doing just that, not touching a baseball, a bat, nor even watching a Major League Baseball game on television, and by his senior year in 2007, he was recruited to play football for Virginia State University.
For the last three football seasons, Spencer has been the starting cornerback for the team, and had 33 solo tackles last fall. But this spring Spencer is making another type of statistic under his name – a batting average just below .300.
His return to baseball started in late 2009 as he observed the baseball team during fall practice one day after football workouts. He then spoke with head baseball coach Merrill Morgan, asking him for a tryout in the spring.
Despite only playing one year of high school baseball, Howard had played enough AAU travel baseball, with the Lumberjax, to know he could play the game, he said.
“I knew my presence could be used on the baseball field,” he said, “…I knew I had to get back into the game.”
Spencer had heard about VSU’s baseball success, the team winning three CIAA championships in a row, and wanted to be a part of it all, he said. He finished the 2010 season with a .269 batting average, having 18 hits in 67 at bats before the team lost to St. Augustine in the finals.
This spring, Spencer is back at it, hitting just below a .300 average, but according to his coach, Spencer does more for the team just than produce.
“He’s been that sparkplug – he can really get us going during games,” said Morgan. “He makes things happen…He’s definitely a leader; he leads on and off the field. His intensity rubs off on other teammates.”
Coach Morgan agrees that Spencer is an “asset” to the team, that his speed on the base paths and in the outfield is a rarity and could perhaps take him to the next level in sports. Spencer has been in contact with the semi-pro football team the VA Raiders and is looking forward to his future options.
Now Spencer is receiving scholarships in both sports and has a 2.7 GPA majoring in Criminal Justice. “It can be better,” he said and he hopes to have over a 2.75, a B- average, when he is to graduate in the late fall. However, he is considering staying at VSU for another semester so he can play baseball for one more season.
His goal, he said, is to one day run a group home with “in-home” counseling for teenagers who have grown up without a father figure – something Spencer himself experienced, raised by his mother Sharon Spencer, who Spencer said “keeps the family together.”
“My coaches have basically always been my father figures,” said Spencer. His mentor growing up was Harrowgate Elementary basketball coach Kevin Bettis, someone that sought to provide Spencer with the fatherly guidance he needed, he said.
Currently, Spencer is looking for the baseball season to finish on a high note, the team having a chance to win the CIAA tournament once again. But at this time in his life he is well-aware that none of it means anything without succeeding in academics.
Peggy Davis, the athletic director at VSU, who knows Spencer well said, “I can certainly say that the future is very bright for him. He is certainly setting himself up to be successful.”