Local athlete sees things on the football field differently

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Saint John Paul II Catholic High School’s football team is still looking for that first win this season. But despite being 0-9, what the team lacks in W’s, it makes up with a story of inspiration.

Jay Spencer loves playing football. JP II head football coach John Mumford describes Jay by simply saying, “He's very quick. He’s the most explosive kid off the ball.” The 16-year-old sophomore plays hard. And he’s tough. “Quite frankly, pound for pound is probably one of the top three toughest kids on the football team,” says Coach Mumford.

Jay’s only been playing for four years. Jay’s mother, Gina said “He's fearless. Really, he's done everything he's ever wanted to do.” Even after breaking his arm during a game, Jay got his cast and kept playing. "And didn't even miss a practice because he said 'Dad, I might not ever get to play again,'" added Jay Spencer, Jay’s father.

In fact, some would say it’s a miracle he plays the game at all. Jay is legally blind. At age 3, he was diagnosed with a retinal disease called LCA. “I've never really looked at it as a handicap thing,” said Jay. He has limited peripheral vision but can’t see straight ahead. Sitting across from him for our interview, he told me, “I can sorta see your shirt and see the papers on your lap and I can see the light behind you. And that's about it.”

This is the first season at JP II for both Jay and head coach John Mumford. He says he wasn't sure how things would work out with Jay until he met him and saw him in the weight room before the season started. “And it was at that time I thought there was something really special about this young man,” said Mumford. Jay’s teammates agree. “I've got to believe they're inspired by him,” said the coach, “As I am, as we all are.”

Jay also wrestles. In fact, it was his wrestling coach who convinced others four years ago to give Jay a shot at playing football in Virginia. “They said, if any blind kid can play football, it's this one,” said Jay’s dad. “That's how it started.” Jay’s mother added, "And then won defensive lineman of the year."

Jay Spencer is a humble young man. In fact, when he heard we wanted to do a story on him, he said there were other players who deserved the attention more. And during the interview when I brought up the fact that he blocked an extra point against Curry earlier this year, he smiled and said, “It was just another play.” If that’s true, we can’t wait to see what he does the next two years at JP II. The Falcons play their final game of the season Friday, Oct. 28 at Clements.