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Southeast senior safety making big plays as first-year starter
Branden Spann paid his dues in his first three seasons with the Southeast Missouri State football team.
Now Spann is reaping the rewards of his patience and persistence.
The senior safety finally broke into the starting lineup this year after previously seeing limited action in a reserve role. He has made his presence felt in a big way.
"Patience is a virtue as they say," Spann said with a smile. "I had to stay focused and keep working on my craft. I knew my time would come."
Spann recorded one of the defensive plays of Southeast's season so far, returning an interception 100 yards for a touchdown during Saturday's wild 41-38 double-overtime home win over Tennessee Tech in the Redhawks' Ohio Valley Conference opener.
Spann's "pick six," along with one by senior linebacker Darrick Borum, came in the first half and helped Southeast stay within striking distance of the defending OVC tri-champion Eagles.
"It was a huge play," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said.
Spann's 100-yard interception return was just the second from that distance in school history and tied an OVC record. He is the fourth player in league history to accomplish the feat. Southeast's Eddie Calvin did it in 2007.
Only 39 players in Football Championship Subdivision history have returned interceptions 100 yards for touchdowns.
"It feels awesome," Spann said of putting his name in the record book. "The play still seems unreal. I'm grateful for it."
Spann, who had never started a college game before this year, recorded a total of 11 tackles during his first three Southeast seasons. He saw his most extensive action last year, playing in all 11 of the Redhawks' games.
Spann made his mark as a key special teams player for the Redhawks the past three years while also being valuable as a reserve safety.
"He did a lot of special teams for us, which is very important. He's a great team guy and a great kid," Samuel said.
Spann has already far surpassed his previous career statistical output in just four games so far this season.
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound native of Jersey City, N.J., is Southeast's third-leading tackler with 25. He has two interceptions among three passes defended.
Spann intercepted his first collegiate pass and recovered his first collegiate fumble during a 35-14 loss at SIU the week before the Tennessee Tech game.
"He's progressing very well," Samuel said. "People don't realize, even though you've been playing and practicing, he was a little rusty to start the year.
"I think a couple of games ago he broke the ice. Kind of like a jump shooter in basketball, you hit that first big shot. ..."
Spann admitted that he sometimes felt frustration over not playing more earlier in his career but he never let it affect the way he prepared.
"It was frustrating but you have to be ready when your number is called," Spann said. "I was just trying to do whatever I could to help the team."
Now he's helping the squad in a starting role, which was his goal all along and which led him to perhaps even work a bit harder than usual in the offseason.
"I've been waiting for it [starting] a long time. It feels real good," Spann said. "I try to work hard all the time but I worked a little harder. My last year, I knew I had to give it my all."
Although he wasn't yet a front-line performer, Spann was a part of Southeast's historic 2010 season that featured the program's first OVC title and first playoff berth on any level.
"It was a blast, the ride of a lifetime," Spann said.
Spann is among quite a few New Jersey natives to play at Southeast under seventh-year coach Samuel, who grew up in Jersey City.
Spann was a high school teammate of former Southeast receiver Chantae Ahamefule, who completed his eligibility last year. Their relationship pretty much sold Spann on playing for the Redhawks.
"What really brought me here was Manny [Ahamefule]. We were pretty close in high school and we became even closer when I got here," Spann said. "I felt I was home when I came here. And coach Sam, being from the same town, he made me feel real good here."
Samuel grinned when talking about Southeast's New Jersey connection.
"You've got to get a few guys from back home," Samuel said. "We've had some good ones. And they all graduated."
Spann plans on joining the list. The hospitality management major said he one day hopes to manage and eventually own a hotel.
"You've got to come out with a degree," said Spann, on track to graduate in 2013.
In the meantime Spann hopes to continue his solid senior season and help Southeast in its quest for an OVC title.
"As long as we keep winning, that's the main thing," he said.
The Redhawks, 2-2 overall, will try to take down another OVC heavyweight Saturday when they visit defending tri-champion Jacksonville State for a 3 p.m. kickoff.
"We'll be real prepared," Spann said. "We know they'll be a physical team but we'll be physical, too."