Ex-football player turns to track after battling injuries

Devan Spann never played a down at Sun Devil Stadium.

The redshirt sophomore cornerback expected to have a big season and could’ve contributed with the lack of depth in the secondary.

Instead, he expects to help ASU’s track team retain its titles this spring.

With the assist of his family, friends and coaches, Spann was able to get through one of the most difficult transitions in his life from playing football to running track.

Spann has had a history of shoulder problems dating back to the last football game he played.

Spann was a senior at Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., and played in the state championship game. Spann dislocated his left shoulder in the game, but popped it back in and finished the game.

Junipero Serra High won the state title, but Spann dislocated his shoulder again the next week. The MRI revealed he had torn ligaments in the shoulder and had his first of many surgeries in January 2010.

Spann has since had three surgeries on his shoulders since he’s arrived at ASU. Two occurred last year on both shoulders as he missed the entire season. During the first day of fall camp, Spann dislocated his right shoulder again.

“The doctors were telling me if this is happening without any contact, it’s going to be worse with contact,” Spann said.

After he hurt his shoulder in practice, Spann was an emotional wreck at practice. He gave his mother, Bridgette Thomas, a call after he left the trainer’s office and started crying.

His football career came to an abrupt end.

Redshirt sophomore Devan Spann lines up for a sprint during an ASU track practice on Thursday. (Photo by Master Tesfatsion)

“I think I was probably more devastated that he was because as a parent, when your children have dreams or aspirations, you always want to see them fulfill those,” Thomas said.

Spann met up with two of his closest friends on the team, senior cornerback Deveron Carr and senior safety Keelan Johnson, to tell them his decision. Johnson hosted Spann on his official visit and Carr was the first person Spann met when he came to ASU. They’ve gone through their fair share of injuries at ASU, and Carr felt Spann made the right choice.

“I just told him it’s more to life than football,” Carr said. “A lot of us come to college thinking all we have is football, but I said you’ve got to look at life bigger than that.”

Spann had withdrawals after he received a medical hardship and went through a period where he didn’t want to do anything. His whole world revolved around football. He planned on a career in the sport and providing for his mother.

Seeking more advice, Spann texted former ASU cornerback Omar Bolden. He suggested Spann should run track.

“I really don’t know,” Bolden said recalling why he suggested track. “I just know about his history and how he’s fast.”

Spann was a track star in high school. He competed in it with his football teammates to stay in shape and give them an extra edge on the field.

His senior year 4x100 relay team members now play football at Pac-12 schools – Colorado junior wide receiver Paul Richardson, USC junior wide receiver Robert Woods and USC sophomore wide receiver George Farmer. They placed second during the California Relays.

Spann and Woods ran the 4x400-meter relay and placed first. Spann said his team’s 3:08.42 time at the state meet was the fastest in California history.

Spann turned to the two football players on the track team for advice — senior wide receiver Rashad Ross and junior wide receiver Kyle Middlebrooks. Ross dropped a good word about Spann to track assistant coach Ronnie Williams, who already knew about his high school accolades.

“When we were doing workouts earlier this year, he was up there with me,” Ross aid. “He’s got so much stamina.”

Spann joined the team in September, but the first day was brutal. Due to his inactivity, Spann could only get through warm-ups.

Two days later, Spann completed half of the team’s hill workout. Williams knew at that point Spann had the toughness to run track at the collegiate level.

“He works hard and he has a high level of ability,” Williams said. “It’s definitely been a pleasant surprise and it’s going to be very exciting once he has the opportunity to start competing in the spring semester.

“I want him to get the opportunity to put on the uniform and compete and represent the Sun Devils. Just judging off the facts of how good he was in high school, I’ll expect him to improve on his school marks.”

Spann was certain track was the right place to be when Bolden told him he should run track a month after he joined the team. He looks to be part of ASU’s 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relay teams, which won both relays at the Pac-12 Championships for the first time since 2005.

“Just because one door has closed doesn’t mean another door won’t open for you,” Thomas said. “Devan is in a much better place because it took a toll on him mentally.”

Spann has accepted he can’t play football anymore. Thomas told her son he’s no longer Devan Spann, the football player. He’s Devan Spann, the person, and he has more to offer to the world.

“I’m starting to believe that now,” Spann said. “I feel like if I can go out and talk to somebody that’s going through the same thing, my story can probably help them with whatever they’re going through.”


Reach the reporter at mtesfats@asu.edu

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