JD Spielman stood out on a football field long before coming to Minnesota and dominating the high school scene.
As a first-grader in Florida, only he played up with the kids a grade or two above. During his junior year at Eden Prairie, Spielman heard people rave about him making plays they had not seen many others make. As a senior this fall, Spielman, whose initials stand for James Donald, confirmed his place among the best players in high school annals.
He piled up more than 1,500 total yards rushing, receiving and on returns. Fluid, tough and quick, he ran for 18 touchdowns, caught two scores and reached the end zone on two punt returns, a kick return and two interceptions.
Explosive? Try this: Sixteen of his 25 touchdowns covered 30 yards or more against one of the state’s toughest schedules.
Spielman, who committed to Nebraska, went to the head of a solid class of multipurpose playmakers featuring Isaac Collins (Maple Grove), Amani Hooker (Park Center), Tyler Johnson (Minneapolis North) and Kamal Martin (Burnsville). Each made big plays and elevated their respective teams. But Spielman was …
“Special is probably the best word,” Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant said. “He’s got abilities you can’t coach.”
Abilities that make him the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year. Abilities that left opposing coaches in awe.
“There are unbelievable players in the state this year, but he just owned it week in and week out,” said Maple Grove coach Matt Lombardi, whose Crimson gave up three Spielman touchdowns in a loss this season.
Totino-Grace coach Jeff Ferguson raised the stakes, pronouncing, “He’s got the best 15-play highlight film in the history of Minnesota high school football.”
He’s got a great story, too. Unable to have children, Rick and Michele Spielman decided to adopt. The Spielmans, a white couple, welcomed Ronnie and JD — black, biological siblings from Chicago’s south side — into their hearts and home.
JD’s cries came over the baby monitor long after dark on the first night in his new home. Michele ran in and found Ronnie, then 2½, already had gotten into the crib to rock and soothe his 8-month-old brother.
Rick would become the Minnesota Vikings general manager. He and Michele moved their family, which had grown to six adopted children, to Eden Prairie about a decade ago. New friends were curious.
“The first time they see your parents they ask, ‘Is that actually your mom and dad? Why are they white?’ ” JD said. “But it’s not really a big deal now that everyone’s older.”
Tougher was living up to the Spielman name, particularly in football. JD said he would hear people say, “You’re only popular in sports because of your name, not for anything you’ve actually done.”
“The name helps,’’ he said, “but it’s a lot of the extra work I’ve put in alone that a lot of people never put in.”
A willingness to accept pressure is a trait that Chris Spielman, JD’s uncle, admires. JD showed a taste for the clutch when as a freshman, he yelled for the ball then scored the game-winning goal in the lacrosse state championship game.
“I love him for his genuine confidence,” said Chris, a former NFL linebacker and current ESPN college football analyst. JD carries one of his uncle’s football cards on the back on his mobile phone. “I called to give him a hard time about a game Nebraska lost,’’ Chris said, “and he said, ‘I can’t do anything about it until I get there.’ ”
Spielman, 5-8, 175 pounds, said the Huskers see him as a slot receiver. Winter workouts will bring large volumes of weight and agility training, plus route running and pass receiving.
Long afraid his small stature would dash his Division I college football dreams, Spielman, a high school lacrosse star who turned down a scholarship offer to play at Ohio State, is out to prove his worth at one position. For now.
“You have to act and compete like you’re trying to be the best,” he said. “If you think you’re the best, you won’t work as hard. But if you think you’re at the bottom, it makes you work that much harder.”