NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEEL: Brandon Spoon
Brandon Spoon was one of the top linebackers in the nation last year. He is slated to be a premier linebacker next season and has been nominated for the Butkus (linebacker) Award twice.
By Greg Shepard
Published: Summer 1999
Brandon Spoon was one of the top linebackers in the nation last year and is slated to be a premier linebacker next season. He has been nominated for the Butkus (linebacker) Award twice. Last season he was a 2nd team All-ACC selection as he led the Tar Heels in tackles (78) and hits (138).
Brandon began lifting in the 8th grade where his dad was athletic director and the defensive football coach at Williams High School in North Carolina. “My dad recommending lifting at that age,” said Brandon. “I liked it because all of the changes and improvements.” By the 9th grade, Brandon at 6-1, 195 was able to Bench 250 and run a 4.85 forty. As a senior, he improved his Bench to 405 and his forty to 4.5 seconds. Brandon grew to 6-2 ½ and 230 pounds. He also maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA for all four of his high school years. Just recently, Brandon ran a 4.54 for the pro scouts.
Brandon had a phenomenal career at Williams High School. He made five All-American teams including Parade's team. He was a first team All-State selection in both junior and senior years. Brandon also ran track for four years and his 4 X 400 relay team won the state 3-A Championship in 1994. “I cherish that victory more than any other,” Brandon confided.
Many Division I football coaches obviously wanted Brandon but North Carolina was always in the back of his mind. “I talked to the coaches and just fell in love with the place,” remembered Brandon. “Coach Torbush recruited me and he made a huge impression. I felt North Carolina was the place for me.”
The University of North Carolina has over 24 thousand students coming from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. More than 66 percent of UNC's incoming freshmen graduated in the top 10th of their high school classes. Nearly 27 percent scored 1,300 or higher on their SAT scores.
Just recently completed is the $50 million Keenen Football Center which features the Hall of Honor room, team's locker room, weight room (9,500 square feet), training room, meeting rooms, auditorium, study areas and coaches offices. Keenen Football Stadium holds 60,000 spectators. ESPN Game day Analyst Kirk Hirbstreit feels the Tar Heel facilities are the best in the country.
Brandon, of course, loves it all and Coach Torbush is one of the three people who have had the most influence on him. Carl Torbush, the 1996 National Defensive Coordinator of the Year, was named the 31st head coach on December 8, 1997. He is the first native Tar Heel to lead the team since 1943. Coach Torbush promptly got a Gator Bowl win by crushing Virginia Tech by a 42-3 score. Coach Torbush humbly said, “In my opinion, if ever there was a place where I would be a perfect fit for a job, this is it.”
Brandon beams with pride, “There's not a better weight training facility in the country. It has all the latest state of the art equipment. It is an intense environment to work out in and the staff gives great direction. It's the kind of place you want to work out in because the equipment is the best and the people there are working hard to help you.”
The strength and conditioning program is led by George “Bulldog” Smith. The Bulldog nickname originated when Smith was at the University of Colorado with Jeff “Maddog” Madden (University of Texas) and Coach Bill McCartney. Smith is in his sixth year at UNC and in 1978 was the South Carolina State AA High School Lineman of the Year. Lifting has always been his game. In 1991, Smith set a national drug free Deadlift record at 745 pounds and four years before that he won the Mr. Jr. South Carolina Body Building Championship. Now, that's something you don't see too often.
Smith is assisted by Victor Ishmael, who made major contributions for this article, and Todd Hagler. Also, assisting in the Olympic Sports are Greg Gatz and Jodi Hopkins.
Smith prefers free weights as opposed to the Nautilus machine approach saying, “The extra benefits that free weights allow may be applied more readily to football. We use explosive lifts like power cleans and snatches. A Nautilus machine takes you through the same range of motion every time. When lifting free weight, you can go beyond that range of motion. It is undetermined which way it is going to go. In a bench press or military press, your left arm may not be as strong as your right arm therefore you have to overcompensate or work on that arm. Free weights allow that.
“It's just like playing against a defensive lineman. One play he may go left, the next he may go right or he may come right at you, you never know. Free weights help you overcome deficiencies. That's why we use explosive movements with our free weights and dumbbells.”
Smith and his staff believe the key for remaining a national football program is to get linemen running like linebackers, linebackers running like wide receivers and receivers and backs running like Olympians.
Brandon believes that Power Cleans are the most important lift for his linebacker position. “The Bench is my favorite,” said Brandon, “but I can tell a difference when I play a game if I am Cleaning well. My explosiveness is helped through plyometrics. Explosiveness is a big thing in North Carolina. I can tell a difference just when I play basketball.
“There are a lot of people who are outstanding athletes without lifting but when they come to North Carolina, they find they can't compete until they train. Strength and Conditioning just takes you to the next level. It has helped me to excel in college and hopefully it will give me a shot at the pro level.
“To be successful takes a lot of discipline and hard work. I believe what set me apart in high school was my work ethic and effort. I can remember giving up other things to workout. I worked out many times by myself when no one else wanted to in high school.”
Brandon is extremely lean and has been measured at only 5% body fat. He has never taken ”andro” and Brandon said, ”I don't even take creatine anymore. As far as steroids, I haven't been aware of any athletes on steroids. I certainly would not even consider them. People I know just take the legal stuff.”
Brandon also has some strong feelings on drugs, alcohol and tobacco. ”I have no tolerance period on drugs. I just don't understand the people who take them. They are illegal for a reason. I don't like being around people who do drugs. In fact, no one has ever asked me to do drugs. Everyone knows my position.
“I never drank in high school. I don't like drinking. There are too many things that can go wrong. I will never let anyone get behind a wheel that's been drinking. I don't smoke or chew. I tried to chew once and it made me sick. I don't see how you could ever smoke and play sports.”
Brandon was selected to represent the team on a 15-player Leadership Committee. “We serve as a liaison between players and coaches, said Brandon. “If there are concerns, we bring it to the coaches. An example might be things like uniform changes. However, we would also confront a player who might be involved in any negative type things. Although we have never had to do that.”
Brandon is getting his degree in business and plans to graduate. “If pro football does not work out or when that's over, I'd love to be a pro wrestler,” laughed Brandon seriously.
Brandon believes working hard applies to all aspects of your life. Concentrate also on your grades. My dad always had me work hard in class. I've seen a lot of guys with talent sit home because they didn't have the grades.
“I believe you should put God first. I'm from a Christian religion and that is very important to me. My father passed away not too long ago. I think some people take their family for granted. You need to cherish every moment. I believe that honesty and loyalty are everything.
“My dad always told me things happen for a reason and to have faith. God has a plan for everyone so I am c