As Raphael Spencer prepared to run the 40-yard dash for quite possibly the final time in his athletic career, he took a few deep breaths and told himself to relax.
This was April 8, the date of the Chiefs’ annual local pro day, and Spencer — a graduate of O’Hara who just finished his senior season at Missouri Western — knew a lot was potentially riding on the moment.
The 4.7 he’d run a few weeks earlier at Missouri Western’s pro day was not ideal; to catch the eyes of NFL scouts, small-school skill players need to run fast. But he figured he had little to lose; if this was it for his football career, he was going to go out having fun.
“I felt loose,” Spencer said. “I said I’ll get out here and have some fun. I felt like at my (Missouri Western) pro day, I was thinking too much and got away from having fun out there.”
Apparently, he didn’t have the same problem at the Chiefs’ pro day. Forty yards later, he said, a member of the Chiefs’ scouting staff told him he’d run a 4.5 — something that brought a smile to Spencer’s face.
“I looked at my numbers compared to the other running backs, and my numbers were better,” Spencer said. “Plus, I didn’t drop any balls and I ran really good routes. Some of the coaches said I looked pretty good, and a lot of coaches weren’t going out of their way to talk to players.
“I thought I’d come in there and have fun and play the sport I love. I performed well and did better than I thought I would.”
Which was a relief, because on the field, Spencer — who was listed at 5 feet 9 and 190 pounds — is confident in his ability. He’s always been a better football player than tester, and in 2015, he rushed 246 times for 1,188 yards and seven touchdowns, while also adding 12 catches for 84 yards for the Griffons, who finished 6-5.
“He has big-play ability, and I think he’s been very consistent,” said Missouri Western teammate Mike Jordan, a cornerback who also harbors NFL dreams. “He’ll have to be a developmental guy, but I definitely think he can fit into someone’s scheme and be an effective player.”
That’s what Spencer — who has a young son, Jayson Xavier Spencer, who turns 2 years old in May — is banking on.
“All I need is a shot, that’s all I need,” Spencer said. “Just somebody to say, ‘Let’s give this kid a shot with pads on.’ Anyone that knows me knows I’m not a cocky guy, but football has always been in my DNA, has never been a challenge. I’m sure somebody will see it. A GM or somebody will notice and say, ‘Who is that guy, let’s rewind the film on that guy.’ ”
Spencer said one of the Chiefs’ scouts, Randy Ball, mentioned that he reminded him a little bit of Charcandrick West, just based on how much glee he took from being on the football field.
“We got to talking and he said, ‘You know what, you remind me of Charcandrick West,’” Spencer said. “I was like ‘Oh, really? He was like ‘You two, no matter what is going on, you guys are always smiling.’
“I’ll take that as a compliment … I saw his journey, and I bet there were plenty of times where he said, ‘I don’t know if this is for me.’ I saw he got cut (in 2014), then he made 53-man roster. He didn’t have a whole bunch of outstanding numbers in college, but you could just tell he could play.”
But while Spencer hopes to get invited to some team’s rookie camp, just like West did in 2014 with the Chiefs, he knows that at this point, his football future isn’t necessarily in his hands.
“This has always been my dream, but it’s very important that I realize I don’t have control of everything,” Spencer said. “All I can do is continue to be the best I can be and best man I can be for my family. I’ll work hard for it.”
Spencer joked that on the final day of the draft on Saturday he’ll probably super glue his phone to his left hand in hopes of receiving a postdraft rookie camp invite.
“I’ll try not to think about it too much, but I’ll keep praying,” Spencer said. “If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. But if it does, I’m forever grateful.”
Inside the 2016 NFL Draft: running backs
Chiefs’ needs: The Chiefs have star running back Jamaal Charles returning from a torn ACL, and they inked both of his productive young fill-ins— Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware — to two-year extensions. The Chiefs also have 2013 third-round pick Knile Davis in the fold, even though he has been shopped in recent months. The Chiefs also have one of the game’s better fullbacks in Anthony Sherman, so this position is pretty set, barring a trade.
Sleeper: Oregon’s Byron Marshall put up big numbers as a running back before moving to slot receiver, but he’s got the traits to play both positions — sort of like De’Anthony Thomas — with return ability, to boot.
Donnell Alexander, Akron, 5-11, 219: Son of Derrick Thomas is a Blue Springs South grad who rushed 107 times for 499 yards and three touchdowns in 2015.
Taylor Cox, Kansas, 5-11, 206: Rushed 79 times for 231 yards and two touchdowns in 2015.
Glenn Gronkowski (FB), Kansas State, 6-2, 239: Brother of New England’s Rob Gronkowski caught five passes for 76 yards and a touchdown and rushed 11 times for 45 yards and a touchdown in 2015.
Russell Hansbrough, Missouri, 5-9, 195: Senior captain rushed 111 times for 436 yards and a touchdown in 2015.
Alyn Jackson, Avila, 6-2, 220: Led his team with 923 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015.
De’Andre Mann, Kansas, 5-9, 205: Rushed 76 times for 387 yards and a touchdown in 2015.
Erik May (FB), MidAmerica Nazarene, 6-1, 245: Rushed 12 times for 53 yards in 2015.
Darrian Miller, Northern Iowa, 5-10, 195: Blue Springs graduate rushed 66 times for 297 yards and a touchdown in 2015.
Jeffrey Seybold, Pittsburg State, 5-11, 199: Rushed 151 times for 696 yards and six touchdowns in 2015.
Raphael Spencer, Missouri Western, 5-9, 190: O’Hara graduate who rushed 246 times for 1,188 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015.