Oct. 18, 2000
MAKING HIS PRESENCE FELT
By Chas Jordan
Over the past three seasons, when number 21 takes the field for the Cavaliers, it rarely goes unnoticed. Whether he is breaking up pass plays, making acrobatic interceptions, or performing his charismatic celebratory dances, cornerback Tim Spruill almost always finds his way into the center of the action. One way or another, Spruill will undoubtedly come up with something to attract the fans' attention during the course of just about every game.
For the senior from Savage, Md., his actions on the field simply represent an extension of his true personality, and even when away from the game of football, Spruill generally tends to maintain a high profile. From the sparkling diamond-studded earrings and snakeskin boots he often wears to his jovial, up-beat personality, the Cavaliers' starting cornerback often distinguishes himself from the rest of the crowd. Yet, given the choice, he would have it no other way. Spruill values the ability to exhibit his charisma and true character, viewing them as positive contributions to the team.
"Sometimes, when you look out onto the field, it does not seem like we are playing with enough emotion," said Spruill. "I try to bring a different side and some emotion to the team. We have a lot of guys who are real serious, and I tell them to relax a little bit, because things are going to come. We cannot get tight and tensed up, because we will not play well, so I try to bring a little bit of arrogance to the team."
Though Spruill prides himself on adding a certain air of confidence to the team, his sometimes-erratic play at cornerback has not always equaled his constant display of emotion. In 1998, he finished the year ranked second behind Anthony Poindexter in tackles among the team's defensive backs and second on the team in pass breakups. He was also in a season-high of 766 plays that season. Unfortunately, he struggled to produce those same numbers in '99 as his playing time decreased. He made only six starts recording just over half as many tackles as he did the previous year. Like a true showman, Spruill's strength of character demands that he take full responsibility for his actions, and he blames no one else but himself for last season's drop in performance.
"I try to stay positive, although, sometimes I have to look the bull in the eyes and admit that I have been doing wrong. In the past, I had not been playing as well as I thought I should have been playing or the coaches thought I should have been playing, but I take that all on myself," said Spruill. "This year, I took the bull by the horns and challenged myself to see how good I really wanted to be."
Through the first five games of the 2000 season, Spruill has risen to the challenge and currently leads the Cavaliers with two interceptions. Both his pick-off against BYU as well as his second interception of the year, which came last Saturday against Wake Forest, occurred deep in the opponent's end of the field, and each set up a touchdown for Virginia. As the most experienced cornerback on this year's squad, Spruill looks to continue turning defense into offense and hopes his consistent improvement throughout the season will serve as an example to some of the younger and less experienced backs.
"I just try to give advice to the other guys as much as I can. I try to give them a few pointers to help make their jobs easier. I think as I get better, then everybody else will get better," said Spruill. "The team is only as good as its individuals, and each individual has to get better in order for the team to get better. Hopefully, as the season goes on and as I better myself, the rest of the team will better themselves."
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons behind Spruill's increased production so far this season has been his ability to simply be himself. Number 21 admits he will not allow the game of football to jeopardize who he is or compromise his true personality, and this is something he learned from several former Cavalier standouts he played with in the past. They taught him that no matter the situation, in the end, it remains extremely important to simply enjoy the game, and that often times, a player is most effective when he is relaxed and having fun. For Spruill, adhering to this advice fits perfectly with his personality and complements to his style of play.
"I go on the field, and I have a good time. That is something I learned from some of the older guys I used to play with like Anthony Poindexter, Aaron Brooks and Wali Rainer," said Spruill. "They taught me to go out there and have a good time, because if you go out there thinking too much or stressed out about what is going to happen next, then football will not be fun. It will become a chore, and nobody likes to do chores. So, I go into every game with a smile on my face."
Probably at no time this season has the grin on Spruill's face been any wider or any brighter than following last Saturday's win over Wake Forest. In addition to his key interception, the senior cornerback recorded a critical pass break-up on a deep throw down the sidelines and finished the game second on the team with five total tackles, including one for a four-yard loss. Spruill contends the Cavaliers need to continue this aggressive style of defensive play throughout the remainder of the season in order to find even greater success.
"Good things are going to happen to this team. We just need to attack things instead of letting things come to us," said Spruill. "Hopefully, we will go into these next few games and attack everybody that we play by putting some points on the board and stopping people from scoring on us."
Spruill would like to continue his effective play in today's match-up against the Maryland, a game which always holds a special meaning for him. As a four-year starter for Hammond High School in Savage, Md., Spruill maintains deep ties to Maryland, and he has many friends who now call themselves Terrapins. Following his stellar high school career, he even considered attending the University of Maryland on a football scholarship, but instead opted to, in a sense, head home. A native of Hampton, Va., Spruill grew up a Cavalier fan and feels very comfortable in a Virginia uniform.
"I do get excited for this game, because a lot of my friends go to Maryland, but believe it or not, I always watched Virginia growing up," said Spruill. "I used to get excited for the Maryland-Virginia games [growing up], especially when Shawn Moore and Herman Moore were here."
The one-time Maryland resident, now calls Charlottesville home and above all, is proud to bring his unique blend of talent, charisma, and constant show of emotion to the field each and every time he suits up for the Cavaliers.