For a young kid growing up in certain areas of Shelby, NC, dreams of playing college football – let alone someday in the NFL – can seem entirely impossible.
Throw in the fact that his brother was sentenced in 2003 to life in prison without parole on first-degree murder charges stemming from a drug deal gone wrong in 2001 and many expected Brandon Spikes to go down with the ship.
“There was a lot of negative people who said, you won’t do this, you won’t do that because he didn’t do this, he didn’t do that,” Spikes told USA Today in 2008 about his neighborhood growing up. “You won’t ever get a scholarship, you won’t go to Florida and play as well as you did. My whole career has been about proving people wrong.”
He started on that path during his time in Gainesville, FL with the Florida Gators. Spikes went from five-star recruit and the No. 13 prospect in the nation to a player who looked like he might be underwhelming after the Gators’ defense struggled mightily in 2007.
Months after the season ended, Spikes sat down with then-Florida head coach Urban Meyer, shed some tears, and told him he had no choice but to succeed going forward.
“I let him know this is my life. Without this, I don’t know where I would be. Football has been everything. It was my way out; it was my way here,” he said. “I just told him this is what I do. I wake up in the morning and I breathe, and this is the first thing on my mind.”
Spikes became the defense’s leader that season, the parallel to quarterback Tim Tebow and what he did for the Gators’ offense.
His hit on running back Knowshaun Moreno at the start the 2008 Florida-Georgia game is one of the most famous tackles in school history, and it fueled a 49-10 victory that helped propel the Gators to another win in the 2008 SEC Championship over Alabama and eventually to the 2009 BCS Championship.
Spikes promised when leaving for college that he would make his mother proud. His second national title in three years undoubtedly put a smile on her face, but his decision to stay a fourth year and graduate rather than leave early for the NFL likely made that smile grow exponentially wider.
There was something else he said to his mother, a promise he told the Boston Herald that he made to her when he was a child. Spikes said one day he would play professional football and support their family, reiterating that promise after his brother was incarcerated because his sibling had made a similar pact with the family.
“The promises he made to my mom – he was going to get us out of our situation and he didn’t,” Spikes said in a story published by the Herald on Thursday. “He fell off the road. I couldn’t do that to her. She’s everything.”
So when Spikes came across as a dirty player during his senior season after being caught eye-gouging during a game, he stood up and increased his coach-mandated suspension from a half-game to a full game.
“I accept responsibility for my actions and I accept the consequences of my actions. I would like to apologize to my team and the coaching staff and Washun Ealey. Football is a very physical and emotional game, but there is no excuse for my actions.”
When draft analysts said Spikes was too slow to be picked high in the 2010 NFL Draft, he ignored them, kept his head down, continued working hard and wound up being selected with the No. 62 overall pick in the second round by the New England Patriots.
When he made what he called a stupid decision and was caught having sex with a girl on an Internet stream before his rookie season, he stayed out of the spotlight and concentrated on becoming a better football player.
When he was suspended four games by the NFL for allegedly violating the league’s banned substances policy, he explained that it was due to a particular ingredient in his ADHD medication but still issued an apology:
“I’ve been contacted by the NFL and informed that I will be suspended four games for the detection of an illegal substance in a drug test. The substance was a medication that I should have gotten clarification on before taking. It was not a performance enhancer or an illegal drug. The integrity of the game is very important to me. I understand the league’s ruling and apologize to my teammates, the fans and the Patriots organization for this mistake.”
And when he learned seven games into his second season that a knee injury would force him to miss the majority of the year, Spikes worked hard in rehab and returned in Week 17, earning back his starting role with the team.
Three weeks later he led New England in tackles in the AFC Championship, a game in which he also grabbed an interception in the fourth quarter.
The Herald also spoke this week with Spikes’s mother, Sherry Allen, who not only took care of her son during his time in Shelby but even wound up moving to Gainesville while he was in college after being laid off from her old job as a factory worker.
“I feel like I’m living in a dream,” she told the paper.
A true football player at heart, her son has “I love this game” tattooed above his left wrist and stands not only as a favorite of Gator Nation but also of his teammates (past and present), Patriots fans and New England’s owner.
“Do you know how lucky we are to have Brandon Spikes on the team?,” owner Robert Kraft exclaimed two weeks ago. “He’s the man. He’s the man. He told me we were going to win that game and when he made that interception that was so cool. He told me he was going to do it for Myra [Kraft’s deceased wife]. I love having this man on our team.”
On Sunday, Allen’s dream comes true and Spikes’s hard work will be realized when he steps on the field as the starting inside linebacker for the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
Photo Credit: CBS Boston