Brian Hamilton: Perseverance paid off for this Packer
Plodding along on the practice squad wasn’t exactly what Spencer Havner had in mind for his career in the National Football League.
But for the better part of his first three seasons removed from a celebrated career at UCLA, that’s where Havner called home. Toiling away on the scout squad, after going undrafted and being cut from the final 53-man roster by both the Washington Redskins and the Green Bay Packers, the former Nevada Union High School star was just another practice body.
As each training camp ended in disappointment, he annually answered the same question from his hometown newspaper:
How much longer are you going to chase the dream?
“I don’t mind the practice squad,” he said at the time. “The money is fine, but the thing about being on the practice squad is that you’re still on the team. You still have a chance to make the roster.
“You’re still alive, basically.”
He kept hope alive by carrying his lunch pail to practice each day, knowing there was likely no chance he’d get to play. After going undrafted, after being cut three times, though he might have wondered why, he never complained.
As the old cliche goes, he actually was just happy to be there, hoping to help the team.
And so when he was finally added to the team roster last fall and made his NFL debut, he continued with the same blue-collar work ethic and same “can-do” approach.
And it made a difference, not only for his team, but also for him.
Earlier this year, the Packers added the role of back-up tight end to his duties as a special teams player and as a reserve linebacker. He saw the additional workload as a way to make the team, giving the front office essentially two position players for the price of one. Not only did he refrain from whining about the extra work, he welcomed it with open arms – and a pretty good pair of hands.
“I really do think that’s part of it,” Havner said. “Really, this opportunity came from me being on the scout team the last couple of seasons, catching balls on our defense, making plays and mixing it up.”
Proving that perseverance actually does still pay off, Havner finally got his shot at shining in the spotlight on Sunday. And, as most everyone in Nevada County now knows, he didn’t waste his opportunity.
After being plugged in at tight end for injured starter Jermichael Finley, Havner caught a pass from former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers and sped down the right sideline before diving into the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown.
“I just can’t describe how happy I was and how fun it was,” Havner said by phone Monday night. “All the guys were so happy for me. Everyone on the entire sideline came over and tapped me on the head.”
That’s likely because they knew just how hard he had worked to just get the chance.
“Going through the personnel in the spring, we just felt we needed to create an opportunity to get Spencer on the 53,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said during his Monday press conference. “The opportunity was created with him playing both tight end and linebacker and trying to be a core special teams player, and he definitely took advantage of that in the preseason. I thought his special teams play was definitely exemplary coming off the way he played those last three, four games when he was up on our 53-man roster to finish last season.
“We just felt he’s an instinctive football player. He’s a young man that’s taken full advantage of his opportunities. You love to see guys like Spencer have success, and that was what went on there (Sunday).”
How could you not root for a guy like that?
“Spencer is going to be successful in whatever he chooses,” said Dave Humphers, Havner’s high school coach. “He’s really a humble gentleman. He’s very intelligent and he always treats people – teammates, coaches and others – so well. And he will never give up.
“It took him a while to make it. And the only way he could do it was to stay positive. As soon as a player starts with ‘the world is against me’ stuff, they’re not going to be able to do it. They can’t do it, when they become a victim with that attitude. As soon as a player takes on that negative attitude, it’s a turn-off to the coach. They would have cut him and just forgot about him.”
“The lesson is that we really encourage our young guys to stick with it and keep playing, because if they stay positive, great things can happen.”
And now, as he and his teammates prepare for Sunday’s NFC North grudge match with the Minnesota Vikings and former Packers quarterback Brett Favre, Havner’s hoping to make more things happen.
“Nah, not a big game or a big deal at all,” he said with more than just a hint of sarcasm. “We’ve got to win it, but because it’s a conference rival and because there are playoff implications. And then there’s Brett and all that.”
McCarthy called Finley (sprained knee) “a long shot” to return for action this week, which will likely mean Havner will have another opportunity to help his team, and make his hometown proud, this week.
“He scored a touchdown for the Green Bay Packers Sunday, but it felt like he scored a touchdown for us and all of Nevada County,” Humphers said. “Everywhere I go, people are talking about Spencer and how happy they are for him. And they wanted to know if I saw his touchdown.
“It just feels like he scored for Nevada County. He’s got a lot of fans here.”
Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 477-4240.
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