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Noah Spence regains status as draft prospect after drug issues

INDIANAPOLIS — He played hard and partied harder, his life in the fast lane fueled by alcohol and ecstasy at parties.

That was the pattern at Ohio State for Noah Spence, who went from an All-Big Ten defensive end with eight sacks and 141/2 tackles for losses in 2013 to being banned from the school he loved for twice failing drug tests issued by the conference.

"It was a group of people I can't hang with," Spence said Friday at the NFL scouting combine. "I mean, I had to be more to myself and stay away from the party scene. … It was never really an addiction."

For more than eight minutes Friday, Spence answered the same questions in a media session being asked by NFL teams this week in Indianapolis.

Why did arguably the most-gifted pass rusher in the draft nearly throw it away all away for pills and thrills? Even after having to transfer to Division I-AA Eastern Kentucky, why did the restart to his career began with an alcohol-related arrest?

"He's a great kid. Everyone makes mistakes," said Joey Bosa, Spence's former Buckeyes teammate who is likely to be the first defensive end taken with a top-five pick in the draft. "I made mistakes. It's what you do with the second chance. As you see, he's here, he's being looked at as a first-round pick. So I think he did a great job with his second chance."

At Eastern Kentucky, Spence was the Ohio Valley Conference co-defensive player of the year with 111/2 sacks and 221/2 tackles for a loss. Last month at the Senior Bowl, the 6-foot-3, 261-pounder was the most natural and effective pass rusher.

With Tampa Bay's most glaring need for an edge pass rusher — and Bosa and Oregon's DeForest Buckner expected to be gone before their No. 9 overall pick — the Bucs have to decide if they can afford to pass up a talent such as Spence.

Could he wind up like the Cowboys' Randy Gregory, a defensive end with two positive tests for marijuana at Nebraska, another at the combine and currently facing a four-game suspension? Or could he turn around his life and lead a team to a Super Bowl like the Broncos' Von Miller?

"Like I said, I feel like everything I've ever done is out in the open," Spence said. "I've never gotten away with anything. So, I mean, it's all there. There isn't anything to hide."

Spence said the only drug he ever tested positive for was ecstasy, also 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.

Spence said with the help of his father, he learned to become more introspective and break away from the party scene and people who used drugs. He says he has been tested since his suspension about once a week, a routine that is continuing.

"I mean, just stayed on top of it. I've been drug tested frequently and focused more on football, school and stuff like that," Spence said. "It was a group of people I can't hang with. I mean, I had to be more to myself and stay away from the party scene.

"I spend a lot more time by myself. I've got a girlfriend now, I chill, go to movies and stuff like that. I don't do much partying nowadays."

He said Eastern Kentucky was an outpost where he could focus on football.

"I knew what I did. I knew why I was there, and I knew it was a business trip for me," Spence said. "It was a great school. I wanted to win and everything like that. But I knew coming in there what I wanted to do and what I wanted to get out of the situation."

Though he is thought to have first-round talent, Spence doesn't know where he will be drafted. Given what he put himself through, he doesn't seem to care.

"I don't have any expectations," he said. "I feel blessed to be in this situation. I mean, I didn't even feel I would be back here, so wherever I go is fine."

But Spence knows he has work to do to convince NFL teams he is worth the risk.

"Like anyone who has a substance abuse problem, (teams are) worried about it," Spence said. "But if it's behind you, it's behind you.

Does he consider himself a risky choice?

"No," he said. "Not at all."

Noah Spence regains status as draft prospect after drug issues 02/26/16 [Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2016 10:19pm]
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