Speedster Spencer hits his stride with Redblacks
Wide receiver, kick returner motivated by doubters who say he’s too small
There’s no guarantee Diontae Spencer will remain in the Canadian Football League. At age 25, he believes the NFL window has yet to close, although he already has dipped his toe in the water with the Rams and Bears.
But should he stay north of the border, the sky appears the limit for the talented Ottawa Redblacks’ wide-receiver and return-specialist.
“Definitely, I feel like I can be, when healthy and at the top of my game, I can be the best receiver and returner in this league,” Spencer said Wednesday, upon the team’s arrival in Montreal for Thursday night’s game against the Alouettes. “Hopefully that can happen. We’ll just see how it pans out.
“Every time I have the ball in my hands, I feel I can go the distance. My coaches and teammates believe that, too. It gives me confidence in myself. I feel like once I have the ball in my hand and have the opportunity, I can put this team in position to score points at any given time.”
Spencer, only 5-foot-8 and 164 pounds, was named one of the league’s top performers last week. On Saturday against British Columbia, he caught seven passes for 61 yards, returned four punts for 92, including a 61-yarder, generated 60 yards off three kickoff returns, and returned a field-goal attempt 91 yards. Oh yeah, he had one 13-yard carry.
Spencer had 317 all-purpose yards. Not a bad day’s work.
“I feel like I’ve been playing pretty well, given the opportunities that I’ve had,” said Spencer, a native of Iberia, La. “Once I’m in the zone and playing good, I feel like I can always have those types of games. There have been a bunch of games I felt I did a lot to help this team win.”
Spencer spent two seasons with the Toronto Argonauts before becoming a free agent last winter. The majority of his rookie season was spent backing up the frequently-injured Chad Owens. Last season, in only 12 games, Spencer caught 71 passes for 706 yards and returned 33 punts for 341.
Come February, the Argos were in disarray, with no general manager or head coach. Spencer decided to sign a one-year contract with the defending Grey Cup champions, knowing he would be reunited with quarterback Trevor Harris and offensive co-ordinator Jamie Elizondo. The latter was Toronto’s receivers coach in 2015.
It was Spencer’s decision to sign the short-term deal, believing it would put him in a position of strength.
“We felt he had a lot of upside,” Ottawa GM Marcel Desjardins said. “He’s still young. He’s dynamic, both as a wide-receiver and returner. He was familiar with our offensive system.
“He’s just starting to hit his stride.”
While Spencer might be considered too small to play down south, there has always been a place in Canada for guys of his dimension. He played collegiately for McNeese State, where he posted one of the most memorable games in the country with 365 all-purpose yards against Stephen F. Austin, good for a school record. That included two kick-return touchdowns of 93 and 85 yards. He also returned a punt 35 yards for a score.
“I’ve basically been getting (told he’s too small) my whole life,” Spencer admitted. “It has motivated me throughout my career, just having that chip on my shoulder. I feel like I can do anything. The doubters just bring extra motivation for me.”
While the Redblacks still have a less-than-scintillating 3-6-1 record, they’re at least on a two-game winning streak after losing multiple contests by close margins. And it shouldn’t be forgotten Ottawa captured the Cup last year despite having a losing record.
“Feeling the vibe this team has, coming off two wins. I think the swagger’s there,” he said. “Everybody’s coming into the building with energy. Everybody’s bought in. The tough losses we took early, it kind of hurt us. But it also helped. We know the feeling.”
Redblacks’ Diontae Spencer, who is only 5-foot-8 and 164 pounds, was named one of the CFL’s top performers last week.