FAYETTEVILLE — Brad Spence sounds like a young man who knows where he’s headed.
A true freshman linebacker at the University of Arkansas, Spence was 17 years old when he enrolled early and went through spring drills with the Razorbacks.
Now 18 after celebrating his birthday on May 8, Spence sat with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette shortly before camp for the newspaper’s Hog Futures series and among other things he was asked his hobbies.
“Right now I’m working on getting a business,” Spence said. “Other than that, I’m a gamer.”
A business? Well, in the dawn of the NIL environment and with a fertile imagination, business possibilities loom for the creative.
“Entrepreneur,” Spence said of his ambition. “Make my own clothing or something like that. I’m really just getting into the depths of that right now, so I don’t really know. I want to start my own business.”
In the meantime, Spence’s immediate business is finding a way to move up the depth chart at linebacker, a position of need. He’s off to a good start in that endeavor.
Asked on Thursday about the linebacker spots outside Chris Paul and Jordan Crook, Coach Sam Pittman replied immediately, “Brad Spence. I really like Brad Spence and [Alex] Sanford.
“But Spence makes plays every day. As a matter of fact, and I’m not great at singling out one guy, but I did single him out after practice today because it seemed like he was all over the field.”
Spence’s work with the top defensive units has picked up in camp.
None of this comes as a surprise to Jonathan Wilson, his head coach at Klein Forest (Texas) High School who is now running backs coach at Stephen F. Austin.
“He’s a great kid, a very high character kid and great to be around,” Wilson said. “He’s a dynamic athlete, very aggressive player.
“We knew he was something special. He had a knack for getting to the pass rusher and had great pass-rush moves and all that. He’s probably the best defensive player I coached in my career so far.”
That would be a 12-year coaching career for Wilson, a Houston native who played wide receiver at Kansas.
Spence played largely on the edge in high school but is working as an inside player for the Razorbacks. Interestingly, he went a different direction with his body weight while making the transition.
“I lost weight to get in the box,” Spence said. “I was 240 coming in. Now I’m like 233. I wanted to play at 235 and yeah, I feel more light-footed.”
Spence has shown that through the first week-plus of camp.
“I think the weight room has a done a nice job for him, first and foremost,” Pittman said. “He’s built his confidence through there, and now he knows what he’s doing and all that, but I’ll tell you he makes plays all the time and he can really run.
“He made a play today, it’s not sideline to sideline, but one hash all the way to out of bounds on the other hash. That’s hard to do for anybody, but he did it. What’s that tell you? He’s got all the ability, but he’s using his ability. A lot of guys have ability, they don’t use it. He’s one of those guys that does. I think the future is really bright for him, and the future is now.”
Wilson saw a flash of that major college future in a game against Humble High last year.
“It was a run play and they pulled a lineman,” he said. “He just smashed the lineman, put him on his butt and made the tackle. He’s unbelievable. He was a really good player for us. One of a kind. You don’t have those guys a lot.”
Spence said his development in spring was critical.
“It really caught me up with the strength of the SEC,” he said. “The guys who were here already, you could kind of see the difference on what strength level we’re on so I really feel like it was a head start for me and a benefit.
“I feel pretty comfortable with the speed of how everything moves now.”
Spence has made his swift strides despite missing about a two-week chunk of spring with an ankle injury.
All the while, redshirt sophomore linebacker Chris “Pooh” Paul has tried to help Spence adapt quickly to the college game.
“Pooh, he’s a great leader,” Spence said. “We look to get better from within each other. We’ve got a good linebacker room. We’ve got some pretty good depth and I’m really excited to see what we bring to the table.”
Spence was recruited strongly by home-state schools Houston and Texas and also by Mississippi State and Vanderbilt in the SEC before deciding on the Razorbacks.
“I’m really out here to see what I can do in the SEC and succeed and really show other schools who I am,” Spence said. “A lot of SEC schools didn’t recruit me. This was one of the few that recruited me, so I’m out there to prove a point.”