Spruill seldom leaves the field for Hammond

October 07, 1994|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Contributing Writer

When Tim Spruill was 13 years old, he watched his Howard County Trojan teammate Charles Matthews punt in practice.

"I told myself, 'I can do that,' and right then I promised myself to learn every position on the field," Spruill said. "I took it upon myself to be more valuable to the coach. My mom told me to never limit myself."

Spruill, a junior captain for Hammond (3-1, 1-0 in the Howard County League), starts at quarterback, cornerback, punter, kickoff specialist, punt returner and kickoff returner.

When Josh Zillmer separated his left shoulder in the second quarter on Saturday, Spruill replaced him as place-kicker. He is the only player to start at seven positions in coach Joe Russo's 16-year career.

Spruill leads Howard County with 571 yards passing, five touchdown passes and four interceptions, is second with 39.4-yard punting average, third with six rushing touchdowns and fourth with 398 yards rushing.

But Russo isn't worried about the increased probability that his quarterback might be injured returning a punt or tackling on defense.

"It's always a threat, but he really wants to do it," Russo said. "Kids like that usually don't get injured."

Russo designed a no-huddle shotgun offense specifically for Spruill, who was the starting tailback for most of the past two seasons. This fast-break offense allows Spruill to float out of the pocket and allows him to choose to either run the ball upfield or throw to an open receiver.

"We decided last year to go to a more open attack," Russo said. "We also decided to give the ball to our best athlete and see what he can do. He has really learned the offense well."

What Spruill has learned is to spread out the defenses.

At 6 feet, 170 pounds, Spruill usually beats tacklers to the outside with his 4.45 speed. However, defenders cannot leave their receivers and collapse on Spruill because he is 46-of-94 passing.

"The goal of our offense is to tire them out," said Spruill, a second-team All-County running back last year. "We don't think any of our competition can keep up with us. We know there are good teams in the county, but we are in better condition. Teams find that out late in the game."

Teams also have discovered that the best game plan is to play keep-away with Spruill. Quarterbacks throw to the opposite side of the field, punters prefer to angle the ball out of bounds and kickers will hit the ball short on kickoffs rather than put the ball in the hands of Spruill, a first-team All-Howard County punt returner.

But Spruill considers that a compliment.

"It gets frustrating, but it shows that they respect me," he said. "I like challenges. I want them to throw to my side and kick the ball to me. If they don't, it gives my teammates a chance to make their stats look better."

Spruill relishes the labels of team leader and team player. He has to be a leader for Hammond, which has only four seniors.

He stands on the sidelines to show his receivers the right routes. He is the first player to congratulate teammates on a good play. He pushes them during conditioning.

That's why Spruill feels he has to make up for missing the first four games last season due to academics. That's the main reason he excels in seven different positions.

"It was hard last year, just sitting there," Spruill said. "I felt at the beginning of the season when I was ineligible that I should be out there. We were struggling, and it was my fault because I should have been out there. I put it in my head that we're not going to struggle at any point like last year."

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