JD Spielman’s football life seemed stable during three record-setting years at Nebraska. Yet it was anything but, prompting his decision to transfer to Texas Christian this summer.
Spielman’s father, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, worked for the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins before eventually landing in Minnesota when his son was in elementary school.
Having to quickly adjust to a new home this year reminded the former Eden Prairie standout of his dad’s early days in pro football.
“There’s been a little bit of struggles that come with it,” Spielman said in a video news conference last week. “With my dad being in the NFL, it’s nothing new. You’re always moving to new teams. … I kind of grew up around it.”
Critics point to Spielman’s slow start in TCU’s first three games (five catches for 55 yards) in saying he made a mistake leaving Lincoln. But Spielman has no regrets about his decision to transfer in June.
“I appreciate everything Nebraska did for me,” he said, “but at the end of the day my time there had come to an end.”
The Horned Frogs (1-2), who have a bye this week before playing host to Oklahoma on Oct. 24, already gave Spielman one of the biggest upsets in his playing career. They defeated No. 9 Texas 33-31 two weeks ago.
“It’s never easy to just pick up and leave after all the work and grind that you put in at that past school,” Spielman said. “I met a lot of great people at Nebraska. … It was hard to get up and leave that. But you also have to do what’s best for you and your career, and make sure that you’re mentally healthy, happy and go out there and still love the game you grew up playing.”
The abrupt departure of a Huskers fan favorite left the Nebraska community wondering why Spielman needed a change of scenery.
Third-year coach Scott Frost’s program appeared ready to trend upward. And Spielman seemingly was sure to be a big part of it. But a glimpse into his thought process via social media revealed mental health struggles, even when responding to a disgruntled fan this summer.
“I did not quit on any team,” Spielman tweeted on July 20. “I played all 12 games last year while struggling with depression and anxiety. I went out there and took hits every day for your entertainment all while being 30 pounds below playing weight due to not eating and not sleeping.”
Spielman’s weight loss wasn’t reported on during the season. But Frost hinted at off-the-field issues in early March. Before the pandemic shutdown, the Huskers said Spielman would miss spring workouts for personal reasons.
“We’re keeping tabs on him and wish him the best while he’s dealing with things that he has to deal with,” Frost said then. “I think there’ll be a lot of dialogue down the road, but right now we just wish him the best.”
Frost said later that he thought Spielman would return for the 2020 season, but the Huskers coach eventually understood why it was best to move on. It wasn’t easy, though, since Spielman was the first Husker with three straight 800-yard receiving seasons. He finished his Nebraska career with 2,546 receiving yards, third most in school history.
Spielman picked TCU partly because of his relationship with former Gophers coach Jerry Kill, who recruited him in high school. Kill, who left Minnesota in 2015, is now a special assistant to Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson.
“What made me want to come to TCU was I really believed what the coaches were telling me, the plan they had for me,” Spielman said.
Despite being a Biletnikoff Award candidate as best receiver in the nation, Spielman hasn’t caught more than two passes or surpassed 20 yards receiving in his first three games. But he’s playing in the backfield and is the team’s top punt returner.
Spielman is not concerned about stats because he feels comfortable this is where he is supposed to finish his college career.
“It’s not my first time having to adjust to a new offense,” Spielman said. “I’m just taking it day by day, rep by rep, and one of these days everything is going to come together.”