It’s unclear whether the resonating noise came from a cleat hitting a football or two players’ helmets and shoulder pads colliding violently. What is clear, though, is that it was caused by Carey Spear, Vanderbilt’s three-time captain and unlikely kickoff coverage maven. At 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Spear may be one of the best pound-for-pound hitters on the Vanderbilt football team.
And that’s not even his job.
The senior placekicker was recruited by former Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson to drill field goals when called upon, but in his years at Vanderbilt, he has done all that he’s been asked to do and more — both on and off the field.
His tackles are the subjects of a number of YouTube videos that have received tens of thousands of views. One particular play, a devastating blow to current Minnesota Vikings wide receiver and return specialist Cordarelle Patterson, garnered so much popularity that it was featured on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the week. Spear calls the attention from the videos “hilarious.”
At Mayfield High School in Mayfield, Ohio, Spear started at kicker for four years and was also the starting punter during his senior season. Already considered one of the premier placekickers in the nation by several sources, Spear tied a state record as a senior with a 61-yard field goal in a regional semifinal game against Solon.
Despite his football accomplishments, the kicker attributes his aggressive spirit to his long soccer career. A four-year letter winner in high school, Spear was kicked out of four games his senior year while receiving about 10 yellow cards. Though he claims his temper has simmered down recently, he still insists on talking trash to teammates during practice.
“It’s really just a part of having fun at practice and enjoying our time out on the field each and every day,” Spear said. “Guys give me a hard time about how I lack tackling form, but I’ll argue that it gets the job done most of the time … especially the defensive backs and our talented returners that we have like Steve Clarke, Andre Hal, Jon Krause. We’ll just go back and forth.
“Steve will always warn me not to kick it to him, and I'll joke that he's not ready for what's waiting for him if he happens to make it past our coverage unit. Obviously, if I'm one-on-one with any three of those guys, I'm praying just to get a piece of them. They are talented guys, and I thank God I don't go up against them every Saturday.”
He may make the practice atmosphere light with his harmless jibes, but Spear is completely focused on Saturdays — when his opponents take the field.
“During the game, I kind of just let my instincts and reaction take control,” Spear said. “If you watch any of the videos, I don’t really have great tackling form. I just fly in there a little crazy to make a play.”
Although he enjoys bringing the pain to his opponents on the football field, Spear’s off-field persona doesn’t match up. A student leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, he has taken mission trips to Haiti, Peru and Mexico and is one of 10 finalists for the Vanderbilt Outstanding Senior award. Spear felt compelled to submit an application, citing the university’s role in helping him grow in many areas of his life, namely his faith, maturity and academics.
Before enrolling at Vanderbilt, Spear had supraventricular tachycartia, a heart condition that causes an irregular, rapid heartbeat that can result in shortness of breath, chest pain and loss of consciousness. Even after two surgeries in high school, the problem persisted.
Everything changed when the kicker arrived at Vanderbilt. In January 2011, he was operated on at the medical center, and his condition was fixed immediately.
“(Playing football) has been a blessing since the first day I got on campus,” Spear said. “Vanderbilt has shaped me into a better student, better athlete and a better person. I owe so much to my teammates and coaches, teachers and friends; I would not be the same person without them.”
Spear has definitely established himself as a leader in the community and also as a captain of the team. His teammates and coaching staff respect him immensely, and not just for the plays that he makes on game day. In fact, these feelings go beyond respect. Head coach James Franklin said he has “a man crush” on Spear.
“I’m a big fan of Carey Spear and how he plays the game, and that’s why he’s been a three-year captain,” Franklin said. Spear calls this achievement the biggest honor he has ever received at Vanderbilt.
Certainly, Spear’s versatile lifestyle and ability will be hard to replace for the Commodore community. However, one group of people will definitely not be sad that he will be graduating and moving on to bigger hits and better things — SEC kick returners.
If things go well in his final college season, Spear could wind up in the NFL. “Obviously it would be a blessing — a dream come true,” he said, regarding the prospect of playing professionally, “but I’m just focused on this season and doing what I can to help the team.”
Focused: that’s Carey Spear what is, and that’s what any fan should be when his feet touch the field.