A lot of athletes wear their faith on their sleeves. Iowa State’s Marcel Spears Jr. wears his on his neck.
Tattooed on the right side of Spears’ neck is the image of a small telephone, with the word “God” resting on top of it. For the linebacker, it serves as a reminder of who’s in charge of his life, and why he should stay in contact with God.
“My thing is, I should call God,” Spears said. “I use football as my platform to glorify him, because I know without him none of this would happen. I would not be here without him. Every time something good happens, something bad happens, I call God.”
Lately there’s been more good than bad. Spears signed with Iowa State in November 2014 as a three-star prospect out of Olathe, Kansas, choosing the Cyclones over in-state suitors like K-State and Kansas. He redshirted his first year, then played sparingly in 2016, mostly on special teams.
It wasn’t easy to sit and watch when he knew he could help. But Spears kept the faith.
“I’ve always believed that (God) had great things in store for me. I was just waiting, sitting there waiting for it to happen,” he said. “My faith has always been there, and that’s always been my source of power.”
In 2017, his trust was rewarded. In ISU’s second game of the year against rival Iowa, Spears busted out with 17 tackles and a forced fumble. Later in the season he came up with a 61-yard pick-six against Texas Tech that iced a 31-13 win over the Red Raiders. The next week, he came up with another huge interception return for a TD against TCU. After the score, he held the football to his ear like a cell phone and pointed to the sky. Calling God, again.
Last season, Spears continued to grow as a consistent playmaker in the Cyclones’ defense, which ranked second in the Big 12. He made 69 tackles and tied for the team lead in takeaways with three.
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell can’t get enough of Spears’ unyielding dedication, pointing to Spears and defensive end JaQuan Bailey as the team’s most vibrant leaders on that side of the ball.
“They play the game passionately,” Campbell said. “They have great emotion and energy, and their growth is that they’ve learned how to use that passion and emotion to become the best version of themselves every day. I think that’s really pulled others with them greatly.”
Spears grows animated when talking about Iowa State’s upcoming season. It’s his last year in Ames – “my last go-round with my brothers,” he said – and expectations for the Cyclones haven’t been this high in years. Iowa State was picked third in the Big 12’s preseason media poll, its highest selection since joining the conference.
Sometimes the devout Christian athlete gets saddled with the label of being soft. Spears thinks that’s unfair. He is making it his mission to change that perception.
He hopes to do a little Bible thumping this year.
“Just being a Christian doesn’t mean you can’t go out there and want to dominate the whole field. You feel me?” he said. “And I don’t know, that’s how I’m trying to use my platform. … You can be a real person. You can dominate, and then at the same time show people where it’s coming from.”
Iowa State Cyclones
Head coach: Matt Campbell (19-19 in three years at Iowa State, 54-34 in seven years overall)
2018 record: 8-5 (6-3 Big 12)
Last bowl game: 2018 Alamo Bowl (lost to Washington State, 26-24)
Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense, 5 specialists
Stadium: Jack Trice Stadium
8/31 Northern Illinois 11 a.m.
9/14 Iowa 3 p.m.
9/21 Louisiana-Monroe TBA
9/28 at Baylor TBA
10/5 TCU TBA
10/12 at West Virginia TBA
10/19 at Texas Tech TBA
10/28 Oklahoma State TBA
11/9 at Oklahoma TBA
11/16 Texas TBA
11/23 Kansas TBA
11/30 at Kansas State TBA
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