Saturday will mark the last time Cole Spieker plays a football game at Veteran’s Memorial Field.
And when the final whistle blows, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Brainerd, Minn. native will leave Roger Harring Stadium as one of the UW-La Crosse program’s most decorated receivers.
After tallying 141 yards against UW-Whitewater last week, Spieker became just the third Eagle to record over 2,000 career receiving yards. He enters this Saturday’s 11:30 a.m. senior day showdown against UW-Eau Claire with 2,095 yards and will move past Craig Chrest and into second place if he goes for 103 yards against the Blugolds.
But the numbers don’t stop there.
Spieker is tied for third in program history with 24 touchdowns and eighth with 116 receptions. This season he has been a man among boys, proving unstoppable at times. In fact, after catching two touchdown passes against the Warhawks on Saturday, Whitewater coach Kevin Bullis called Spieker “One of the best he has seen in awhile” and that “everyone in the stadium knew where the ball was going, and we still couldn’t stop it.”
Spieker has put up video game-type numbers the past four weeks, hauling in nine touchdowns and 703 yards on 39 receptions. Against Eau Claire, he needs just 27 yards to join Nick Holcomb (1,401) and Scott Burnoski (1,100) as the only UW-L receivers to have 1,000 yards in a single season.
But for Spieker, there was a time when the possibility of just getting on the field in an Eagles uniform, let alone putting up these numbers, seemed in jeopardy.
Like most college freshmen making the jump from high school to college, Spieker had a hard time adjusting to the structure of college. He had excelled in high school, but soon found himself being suffocated by harder classes, football and a job he needed to help pay for school. And like most college freshmen, Spieker wasn’t sure what he wanted to do.
He was thinking something in the science field, but wasn’t sure. His schedule, however, was meant for someone who was sure. By the time he realized what was happening, Spieker found himself behind and treading water.
“It just all kind of got caught up with me, and I didn’t realize how far behind I was,” Spieker said. “And it’s not just going to be like in high school, where sometimes you just kind of do the work and get A’s.”
Spieker was placed on academic probation which means his GPA after the first semester was lower than what UW-L required.
“It was for sure a wakeup call,” Spieker said. “It really gave me a big lesson moving forward in life. How sometimes you have to take a step back process everything.
“Figure out how you’re going to accomplish this, set small goals, build off those and just try not to tackle everything at once ... just ask for support when you need it.”
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It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
It caused Spieker to prioritize his life and showed him the strong support system he had. He credits his advisor Dr. J. Scott Baker along with the UW-L coaching staff and, of course, his parents as he tried to tackle one of the greatest obstacles of his young adult life. But it was his parents who were the strong backbone that Spieker needed.
“They were always there for me,” Spieker said. “They were able to support me through all my struggles, and then I’d figure out what I needed to do to stay in school and be able to play football to follow my dreams.”
The probation allowed Spieker to plan and map out the best course of action. It also gave him time to reflect on what he wanted to do in life. As it turned out the answer was right in front of him.
Spieker was working at the YMCA where he interacted with children in an after school program. That’s when he thought about becoming a teacher. Helping with youth football camps or other community service with children only solidified it.
He was going to be a teacher.
“Working at the YMCA and seeing those young kids they have there in the program I was with and helping the youth that I worked with helped me figure out that’s where I needed to be,” he said.
Now, in addition to seeing him on the football field, you can find Spieker student teaching at Logan High School every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning for the rest of the semester. He is looking forward to becoming a full-time student teacher at Logan next semester.
After coming to La Crosse unsure of what to do, it seems Spieker has found his calling. The passion and the joy that come across his face when he starts talking about his students is easy to see.
He knows he is in a good position to help them, because he can relate. From his own academic struggles, he knows what it’s like to be overwhelmed. He knows what it’s like to feel lost. He knows how tough it is to ask for help. But he is living proof that you can pull yourself up, dust yourself off and get the help you need.
And who knows? Maybe he could help some child become the next Cole Spieker.
“Just off my past experience, I understand where they’re coming from,” said Spieker, who is on pace to graduate with a degree in math education, which he hopes to use to teach on the middle-school level. “I understand that there’s stuff outside of school that may be leading to why they are struggling and how their interest might not be sparked that one day, but I just want to try to be a role model.
“I’ll be here for you, and I just want the best for you. Just like a lot of people wanted and did for me. They really stepped up and helped me in my life. I want to do that, too.”