TCU Iowa St Football

TCU running back Kyle Hicks (21) is tackled by Iowa State linebacker Marcel Spears Jr. (42) during the first half of a game.

Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

AMES, Iowa – Iowa State linebacker Marcel Spears read the Texas Tech screen play perfectly. He stuck out his hand, grabbed the ball and returned the interception for a touchdown.

In the end zone, he put the ball to his ear and pointed heavenward. He was calling God, thanking God for everything that’s happened to him.

The sophomore linebacker burst on the scene in Iowa State’s 44-41 loss to Iowa on Sept. 9. He led the team with 17 tackles and he also a forced fumble.

In the next game against Akron, he only recorded four tackles.

“I was just trying to be Superman,” Spears said. “I was trying to do everybody’s job and not mine.”

Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said the Akron game feels like it was about 10 years ago.

Heacock preaches “1/11”. If everybody does their 1/11, the team will have success. Spears said it was a humbling game for him, and after he bought into Heacock’s message.

“Trying to do everybody’s job makes the game even harder because you don’t know what the opponents going to do,” Spears said. “But you can control what you’re supposed to do.”

Coach Matt Campbell said Spears’ progression used to look like a sine curve. He’d have good days and bad days.

Now, it’s a linear progression.

“I remember having this meeting with him of, ‘Where are you going to take this? What are you going to do with is? You could be a really good football player,’” Campbell said he told Spears in the spring. “Then you see 15 spring practices and just the growth and the improvement. Now, to watch him, and even talk about where he was – you’re just starting to see a steady progression forward. It’s really fun to watch.”

Spears received his second straight Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honor on Monday. He’s been an integral part of Iowa State’s stout defense, which ranks second in the Big 12.

He’s second on the team in tackles with 70, trailing only Joel Lanning’s 87. Spears has also forced two fumbles and he has two interceptions, both coming in the fourth quarter in key situations in the last two games.

“He’s really talented, he’s got great athleticism, great balance and he’s a really good tackler,” Campbell said. “Now, you’re starting to see his awareness, his in-game awareness. That’s really impressive.”

Each time after the interceptions, he put the football to his ear, pointed to the sky and called God.

His faith is something that’s important to him. Spears’ dad regularly shares bible verses and his own wisdom with his son. Spears said they talk almost every day.

“My dad shared a bible verse with me, it was Romans 8:31, ‘If God’s with us, then who can be against us?’” Spears said after the TCU win. “That’s a verse I’m going to remember forever. When he said it to me, it carried weight. It was something to remember. It drove me a little bit. I interpreted it as we’re all in this together, and we have to believe ourselves that we can do this at all times – through adversity, through bad, through good, whatever.

“We’re in this together.”

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