Isaiah Spencer believes he can score a touchdown anytime he gets his mitts around the football.
And with his blazing speed and elusiveness, the sophomore certainly has the ability to accomplish that feat every time. However, Spencer has quickly learned patience is just as important a trait in becoming a productive running back.
“Coaches have always told me that I’ve had to ‘Man-up’ and keep my head right,” the 5-foot-10, 167-pound player said. “If I don’t get that big run this time, I can’t get down on myself. That big run will come.”
And so far, those big runs not only have come, but they’ve occurred in swift fashion during Spencer’s young career.
Starting with a 60-yard touchdown on his very first carry as a freshman last year, Spencer has parlayed his quickness and video game-like cutback moves into a frequent access pass to the end zone. Of his 11 career touchdowns going into Friday’s game, all were on runs of 30 or more yards with six coming from 50 yards and beyond, making him one of the most electrifying players in the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference.
“Last year, Isaiah was a home-run hitter, looking to score a touchdown on every play,” Vineland coach Josh Hedgeman said. “That just isn’t going to happen. You can’t run like that on every play. You got to stick in there sometimes and get the five, six yards that are going to keep drives going.
“He’s just starting to develop as a running back. He’s going to continue to learn the nuances on how to run the football better and understand how to set your runs up. You don’t have to hit a home run every time you get the ball.”
It’s all part of a learning process for Spencer, who appeared to be frustrated at times during the first two games of this season when opposing defenses keyed on the star running back, cutting him off in the backfield for losses before he could get his motor to full speed.
“I’m not the unknown anymore,” Spencer said. “They know I’m going to be a factor in this offense and they are going to try to stop me. I’ve just got to keep working hard, keep running the ball hard.”
Spencer also has fought through some injuries. He missed all three preseason scrimmages with a hamstring strain and left the Week 3 loss at St. Augustine after the opening kickoff with a fractured bone in his left hand.
While the injuries might have broken his stride temporarily, Spencer appears to be reaching full speed again — and that’s pretty darn fast. He was clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.51 seconds in the preseason.
Spencer also has the ability to fight through tackles, something he showed during a season-high 136-yard effort against Middle Township.
That’s the running back he wants to become.
“I love watching (Dallas Cowboy) DeMarco Murray run the football, that’s who I want to be like,” Spencer said. “He doesn’t give up on any run. He fights for every yard he can get.”
Spencer says he has two different running styles.
“It depends on what mood I’m in,” he said. “If I’m mad, I’m going to be looking to run somebody over, go right through them. If I’m not mad, I’m going to cut and use my speed.”
He’d also like to show off the stiff-arm move he learned from his grandpop, the late Matthew White.
“He’s my inspiration in playing football,” Spencer said. “We always talked about the game when we were together.”
Spencer’s ability earned him a surprise roster spot on varsity last season. While the original plan was to keep Spencer on the freshman squad, his production in the summer workouts and the preseason earned him an early promotion to the varsity — a rare feat for a first-year player.
“The potential was always there, but we were concerned about putting a lot of heavy weight on him last year,” Hedgeman said. “It’s tough for a freshman to start on varsity. It was a lot on him, but he did well.”
Spencer couldn’t have had a better debut. He rushed for 133 yards, including a pair of 60-yard touchdown runs, against Ocean City. Despite wearing down as the season progressed, he finished with 322 yards on 60 carries (a 5.3 average).
“It could have been better,” Spencer said. “I felt like I started to get tired at the end of the year. That’s why I worked hard this offseason on getting my endurance up. It’s something I really had to do. I also need to improve upon my blocking, too. It’s all part of being a complete running back, that’s what I want to be.”
He’s certainly in the fast lane to becoming an elite back, but he’s also ready to deal with any traffic that gets in his way.