The most veteran mountaineer playing in the NFL almost never had the chance.
Quinton Spain’s relationship with football began in the youth leagues in Petersburg, Virginia. The city had only 33,458 inhabitants; even still, a 6-foot-4, 330-pound Spain felt underutilized on the offensive line and the Petersburg Crimson Wave high school basketball teams. He wasn’t just sloppy on the pitch. Spain used football as a catalyst to emerge from difficult living conditions. One in 3.6 residents of Petersburg lives in poverty, according to wellnessinfo.org. Despite the fact that her mother, Tracey, worked, food on the table and a roof over her and Quinton’s heads weren’t constants. The two, along with Quinton’s grandmother, bounced between family members’ homes, and he spent part of high school living with his offensive line coach.
“It was tough,” Spain told Yahoo News. “I am happy to have my brothers and sisters around me, my mother and my grandmother. They kept me out of trouble and it allowed me to focus on school. My ninth year in high school, [head coach Michael] Scott came up to me and said, ‘Do you want to go to college?’
“And I said, ‘Yeah, but I can’t pay for that’, and he said, ‘All I need you to do is play football and that can take you there. where you have to go.
Spain worked diligently to raise his high school GPA to 3.5, and with the help of Scott & Co., he turned into a four-star prospect. Suddenly, the colleges were coming out of the woods. Ohio State and Virginia Tech showed interest, but it was head coach Bill Stewart’s staff in West Virginia that made the future that an 18-year-old Spaniard saw for himself a reality. Offensive line coach Dave Johnson received Spain, who had played guard for the Crimson Wave, and redshirted him in 2010. With Johnson’s help, Spain went from the guard at tackle because it was easier for him to grab. He ended up playing both tackles during the 2011 season as he became more familiar with the position; the following season, he split his time between left tackle, where he started every game, and guard.
He was also moved between left tackle and left guard in 2013, as Stewart’s staff agreed keeping him with guards would greatly increase his interest in the NFL. When Spain left the Mountaineers after playing for a fifth year, he was one of the best offensive linemen in the new Big 12 conference. It wouldn’t have surprised anyone watching the Mountaineer football team at that time. time that Spain was a strong first-round addition to an NFL roster in the 2015 draft.
Of 256 player caps, fifteen were inside linemen and Spain never heard his name called.
“(I was) projected to be a first-rounder and then I wasn’t drafted,” Spain said. “It’s stuck with me ever since. I just use it for motivation, like a chip on my shoulder.
“At the end of that draft I had to see my family and they saw me cry for the first time because it really hurt me,” he said on an episode of the Mountaineer Insider Podcast. . “It was one of my goals and dreams, but after being picked up by Tennessee, I knew I just needed an opportunity.”
This opportunity presented itself shortly after the end of the process project. On May 2, 2015, Spain signed with the Titans as a free agent, and the door to his professional success finally opened. Now he had to prove himself. He started half a dozen games at left guard his rookie season and maintained his starting position for the next three seasons in Nashville. He had become a staple of Keith Carter’s offensive line, but in 2019 it was time for a change. His success with Tennessee resulted in an unrestricted one-year free agent contract with the Buffalo Bills; 2019 became a season in which the offensive line allowed no sacks and Spain started every game. What came next should have been a three-year, $15 million extension aimed at expiring in 2023, but the tides were about to turn for the then-NFL vet.
After just two games, Spain saw their position filled on October 21 by youngster Cody Ford. At that time, he asked to be traded away from Buffalo, but his third team would maintain his presence in the AFC. Nine days later, the Cincinnati Bengals called.
“I asked if [the Bills] would set me free,” Spain said. “At first they didn’t want to do this, but then they released me, so I’m happy. I’m glad they released me so I had the opportunity to go to Cincinnati and pick up my game there so it was a great decision I made to get better at new. I’m glad I did.
Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor didn’t even know Spain’s name when the team drafted him into the practice squad, but that didn’t stop Spain from waking up every day and to prove its value and its initial potential.
“He’s got a lot of experience in this league,” Taylor said. “He did a good job at Buffalo. Whenever we can add quality players to our roster, we will go ahead and make those additions.
This 2020 team, led by rookie Joe Burrow, saw a 29-year-old Spain rise through the ranks and become a constant on the offensive line from November 14. On the day of the match, Spain recalls that he actually introduced himself to some of his attacking teammates during the pre-match huddle. He then started ten games in that 7-6 season, seeing 720 snaps and allowing just one sack. His consistency was rewarded with a one-year contract, $1.127 million in total with a signing bonus of $137,500 and a base salary of $990,000, for the 2021 season.
ProFootballFocus has the impact of Spain in 2021 as a key cog in the wheel of attack: they only allowed pressure on 1.7% of snaps. He’s third-best among NFL guards who have recorded at least 100 pass-blocking snaps.
“He’s definitely a veteran,” Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack said. “He’s one of the guys that I nicknamed ‘Mr. Nasty’ because he physically plays on the court. He finishes. He plays with the right mindset. He’s a guy who kind of has kinda took a lot of young people under his wing, teaching them how to be a pro. He’s the guy who will ask a question he already knows the answer to, but he kind of asks it for the room. Maybe some of the young people guys are a little shy to ask, he’ll ask. It’s great fun to train that way.
Spain’s impact transcends the Paul Brown Stadium. He’s not just playing Super Bowl LVI for the Bengals. He doesn’t just play for Mountaineer Nation. He also plays for those in Petersburg who have supported him since he learned to block and tackle. During the off seasons, Spain returns to Virginia to host free soccer camps for local children. He recognized how much that kind of resource would have meant to him, and he just wants to leave his town better than he found it.
“Me growing up, a lot of people don’t make it,” Spain said. “So me being able to go to the Super Bowl from my hometown is a blessing. I know the city is behind me, so I’m just trying to go out there and make them proud.
“We all know what this game means to us and we all know what we have to do there, so we’re ready to play,” Spain told media ahead of Super Bowl LVI.
Spain will play their 102nd game in the NFL when Super Bowl LVI kicks off tonight at 6:30 p.m. on NBC. He is the first Mountaineer to play in the Super Bowl since the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2017 season, armed with Najee Goode, Rasul Douglas, Shelton Gibson and Wendell Smallwood, won the Lombardi Trophy. Today, Spain is in the running for its own ring. It’s been a long time coming.
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