If ever University of Toledo’s football coaches wish to test the will of Noah Spielman they can just hand him a pickaxe.
Spielman, a Columbus-area defensive lineman who last month signed with the Rockets, visited Honduras in January on a mission trip where he was tasked with digging a 10-foot hole for sewage drainage.
“We had some local guys come by and say, ‘Oh, let me try,’” he said. “They would go down there and pickaxe for five minutes straight. My friends and I would go down there for 30 seconds and be dripping in sweat and be out of breath.”
Spielman, the only son of Ohio football icon Chris Spielman, is a chip off the old ... dirt ground.
Like his old man — a terrorizing linebacker turned inspirational speaker — football and philanthropy are essential to Spielman’s livelihood. He’s gone to Honduras with a church group the past four years to assist the impoverished, building roofs on homes and conducting seminars on proper hygiene. Of digging the sewage hole, the 6-feet and almost 280-pound Spielman called the four-day project “the hardest workout I’ve ever done.”
Papa is proud.
“The thing I’m most proud of is he lives his faith by his actions and not just his words,” Chris Spielman said.
Leery of the hoopla that would have enveloped him, Noah, a two-way standout at Upper Arlington, passed on a guaranteed walk-on spot from Ohio State to accept a scholarship with the Rockets. Even had the Buckeyes come through with a scholarship offer, Noah says he would have explored other options to “step out of the shadow” of his dad, who to this day remains something of an immortal presence at OSU.
Noah chose the Rockets in late October as his lone FBS offer after bulking up and putting together a strong senior season to convince coach Matt Campbell’s staff of his worthiness. Boston College and Nebraska entered the mix late, but Noah was set on Toledo, where he is projected to play nose tackle.
“The fact he earned a scholarship, I don’t think people understand how challenging that was for Noah being a son of an Ohio State player that had a pretty good career,” said Chris Spielman, who played eight of 10 NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions. “The comparisons he had to grow up with, and it’s funny, the stories get better and the games I had get better as I get older. I think he’s done a great job of managing that, and I always told him all you have to be is Noah and do the best you can. It’s paid off for him. I’m very proud of him. I know his mother would be proud of him.”
Stephanie Spielman died of breast cancer in 2009, a tragedy Chris evokes to emphasize faith and perseverance in his speaking engagements. Chris, who works for ESPN as a color analyst, has established charities and funds in her name.
“It’s hard living up to the expectations people have for me,” Noah said. “It also builds a chip on my shoulder. If anyone gives me any crap, I’ll say, OK, I’ll prove you wrong. It usually ends up working out for me.”
For his senior class project, Noah was assigned to argue whether individual organizations or government assistance make a greater impact in foreign countries. “Obviously, I’m backing individual organizations,” says the hole-digging humanitarian.
“It’s really cool to see the impact we’re making over there,” he said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.