Trib HSSN boys athlete of the year: Pine-Richland’s Cole Spencer wins titles in 2 sports

Monday, July 12, 2021 | 4:00 AM

Early in the winter, Pine-Richland’s Cole Spencer called his future college wrestling coach with some bad news. He’d injured his left shoulder and would eventually need surgery to repair a torn labrum.

Should he sit out his senior year?

Weeks removed from quarterbacking Pine-Richland’s football team to a PIAA championship, the Penn wrestling recruit got the answer he’d hoped for.

“He said, ‘You’ve got a state title in football. I don’t want to take your wrestling one away. You might as well go out and try,’” said Spencer, recalling their conversation. “Once he said, ‘It’s all up to you,’ I knew I was going to wrestle. It was never a thought in my head.”

Despite the injury, Spencer went 26-2 on the mat, defended his WPIAL Class 3A title and finished third overall in the state. A few months earlier, he was one of the state’s top quarterbacks, passing for a WPIAL-best 2,626 yards and 33 touchdowns as the Rams won WPIAL and PIAA titles with an undefeated record.

That dual-sport success makes Spencer the 2020-21 TribLive HSSN Boys High School Athlete of the Year, winning the award for the second year in a row.

He graduates with a 32-5 varsity football record and a wresting mark of 130-18.

“I’m glad he let me wrestle through it,” Spencer said. “It was an awesome season. Now, we’ve got to get that thing healed.”

Spencer is scheduled for surgery in a couple of weeks and will take a medical redshirt his first season at Penn.

“This whole year is going to be rehab,” he said. “Rehab and school. They said nine months to a year to recover. They’ve had kids come back in six months and then they just re-tear it right away, so there’s no reason to rush it.”

What was your best memory from football season?

My best memory has got to be that state semifinal game against Governor Mifflin. Being down twice at the end of the game and coming back, it was crazy. Those last two weeks were my last two weeks of football ever. To be able to out two solid wins together back to back to win a state title, I’ll definitely never forget that.

Is there a match from wrestling season that stands out?

My most memorable win this year was at the Wrestling Classic. Team Pa. and Team WPIAL were all kids I grew up with. We’ve been on teams together before since I was 10 or 12 years old. Our WPIAL team was loaded. We wrestled Maryland and we only lost two matches. It was so fun in that atmosphere where all of the guys are going to high-Division I programs.

I was tied for the Pine-Richland all-time pins leader and this was considered my last high school match. My coach said, if you get a pin here, we’ll count it. You’ll be the all-time pin leader. I went out and got a pin in the first period.

How did the shoulder injury happen?

It started against IMG my sophomore year. The very last play that I was in, I got landed on by like three of those huge guys. It was always bothersome but never to the point that it was too bad. And then the first tournament this year, I totally tore it.

The Wednesday before WPIALs, I tweaked it real bad in practice. I woke up the next day and said: “Whoa!” I could barely practice. I was just trying to move it. So, being able to win WPIALs and move on, being nowhere near 100%, was kind of nice.

At this time last year, how concerned were you sports would be canceled because of the pandemic?

We weren’t able to practice at all so the seniors put together our own little practices at Richland Park. At that point, we really had no idea what was going on.

There was a lot of talk that if there wasn’t a season, we were throwing together something like a club team and we were going to do it on our own. We were going to be playing games regardless.

How did the pandemic impact your seasons?

It definitely did stink missing a ton of stuff. It’s such a small example, but we had something where all the seniors do a skit and make fun of the coaches. I’d be Coach Jochem or Luke Miller would be Coach Kasper. We were always planning it sophomore and junior year. And then senior year, we never got to do it.

There were a lot of things we didn’t get to do, but the ultimate goal of getting state gold was what we wanted. That outweighs all of the other things that we missed. All in all it was a great year.

Is there any memorabilia you’ll keep forever?

These (football championship) rings. They’re so sweet. Especially this year’s state championship. It’s so big but so sweet. This is the first ring for P-R that got the black diamonds. I’ll be showing these to my grand kids, hopefully.

What other sports did you try growing up?

Baseball, soccer and I did swim for a year. I took second in a meet, so I’ll take it.

When did you know wrestling was your future?

I remember saying to my dad, “If I’m short, I can play baseball. You don’t have to be too tall for that.” Once I quit baseball, I said, “If I’m big, I’ll play football. If I’m small, I’ll wrestle.” Well, it turns out I’m still 5-10.

As someone moving to Philadelphia, what’s your take on the Sheetz vs. Wawa debate?

Compared to every Wawa I’ve been to, Sheetz is 10 times nicer and way better. But I’m going to have to transition when I’m out there.

Three favorite meals?

Off the top, steak and noodles. Every time my mom makes that I go nuts. You can never go wrong with pizza and wings. Third, I’d say a steak or chicken Chipotle bowl.

Favorite Kennywood ride?

The Phantom and the Skyrocket. I like the roller coasters better than the Black Widow or rides that spin you around. I’ll throw up.

Best Summer Olympic sport to watch?

Oh, come on: Wrestling. Our team is loaded this year. I’m excited. We should definitely bring home some good hardware. But I also like to watch gymnastics and the swimming. Swimming is intense because you can see the line for the world record and you’re saying, “Come on! Come on!”

Looking back, what advice would you give your freshman self?

Me and my mom were looking at a picture from before my first day of high school. I’m standing in front of the stadium with my arms out. … What would I say to that kid? Oh gosh, I don’t even know. Overall, I wouldn’t change much. Just be you. Have fun. Time flies, so make the most of it.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .


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