TAMPA — After all the all the parties and the pills and failed drug tests got him kicked out of Ohio State, Noah Spence decided the thing that mattered most to him was playing football.
"When I hit rock bottom, when I felt like I had nothing else left, when I lost football, I knew I had to turn my life around," Spence said. "I had to realize what I loved and I knew I loved the game. I had to do what I had to do to be able to have it.
"Football is my life. I don't ever want to feel like I felt when they took it away from me again. So you don't ever have to worry about me doing anything that will hinder that or have that happen."
If Spence is right, the Bucs might have acquired the best pure pass rusher in the NFL draft Friday night with the 39th overall pick.
While Spence could be seen as a risk, the Bucs then made what may become one of the most scrutinized moves of the draft Friday, moving back into the second round to take Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo 59th overall.
The Bucs moved up 15 spots for Aquayo, the most accurate kicker in NCAA history, sending the Chiefs their third-round choice (74) and the fourth-round pick (106) they got from the Bears Friday.
"Oh my gosh, it was where I wanted to go," Aguayo said. "They had pick 74. I was just waiting it out. All of a sudden the call came in and I saw the Tampa area code."
The last kicker to be picked as high as Aguayo was Ohio State's Mike Nugent, who went in the second round to the Jets in 2005.
Aquayo is efficient at dropping kickoffs near the goal line to force returns, a weapon because the new NFL touchback rule places the football at the 25-yard line.
"We know it's going to be criticized in some fronts," coach Dirk Koetter said. "It's going to place itself over time."
Like Aquayo, Spence has ties to Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston. They were teammates in the Under Armour All-America game coming out of high school.
But Spence went from an All-Big Ten defensive end with eight sacks and 141/2 tackles for loss in 2013 at Ohio State to being banned from the school he loved for twice failing drug tests issued by the conference.
He began to turn his life and career around at Division I-AA Eastern Kentucky. Spence was the Ohio Valley Conference co-defensive player of the year last season with 111/2 sacks and 221/2 tackles for a loss. In January at the Senior Bowl, the 6-foot-3, 261-pounder was the most natural and effective pass rusher.
"Yeah, I just wanted to prove to everybody I was past the mistakes I made and I wanted to show everybody that I'm the straight and narrow path and want to do all I can in football."
Spence said the only drug he ever tested positive for was ecstasy, known as "molly" or the "hug drug," a psychoactive drug chemically similar to the stimulant methamphetamine and producing an energizing effect, as well as distortions in time and perception. With the help of his father, he learned to become more introspective and break away from the party scene and people who used drugs.
This week, Spence sent his past 20 drug tests he has taken since May to all 32 NFL teams, according to ESPN.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who was working the draft for the NFL Network, said Spence doesn't lack for effort on the football field and seemed to vouch for his character.
"The thing I love about Noah, he practices hard every day," Meyer said. "He brings it every day in the weight room. He brings it every day on the practice field. I think he's going to have a great career, because I've seen him work, and I trust who he is."
The Bucs were intrigued by Spence early in the draft process. He was trained by former Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith, who was a neighbor of Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith when he was Falcons head coach.
Spence said he also struck up a fast relationship with Bucs defensive line coach Jay Hayes.
"It felt like almost a home away from home. That's just how it felt."
That, and the fact that Winston lobbied for both players.
"Jameis' opinion of those (players) helped," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. "But I'm not ready to name him assistant GM/quarterback just yet. Not yet."