Trib HSSN boys athlete of the year: Pine-Richland’s Spencer transforms from star QB to champion wrestler

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Monday, June 29, 2020 | 5:20 PM


It’s not uncommon for Pine-Richland’s Cole Spencer to be heavier in the fall than in the winter, a transformation that takes him from standout quarterback to champion wrestler.

His accomplishments, however, loom large year round.

As a junior, Spencer ranked third among all WPIAL passers last fall with 2,994 yards. He tossed 36 touchdowns and led the Rams to the WPIAL Class 6A finals.

It was his second season as the team’s starting quarterback, following in the footsteps of former Rams stars Ben DiNucci and Phil Jurkovec. With Spencer as a starter, the team’s record is 21-5.

He earned first-team all-state honors and was picked for the Trib 25.

“His best attribute is his competitiveness,” Pine-Richland football coach Eric Kasperowicz said.

In the winter, Spencer went undefeated against WPIAL wrestlers, won the 152-pound title in Class AAA with a perfect 38-0 record and placed fourth in the state tournament. He finished his junior season 42-2 with both losses coming against the same opponent.

His multi-sport success makes Spencer the TribLive HSSN boys athlete of the year for 2019-20 school year. Spencer has committed to Penn for wrestling.

“Wrestling is a great complement to football,” Kasperowicz said. “He knows how to control his body, bend and twist and get down at the right time. You never see him take a hard a hit.”

What was your best memory from last season, wrestling or football?

It’s definitely got to be the WPIAL championship in wrestling. It was a Friday and Saturday tournament and that Friday morning my grandma passed away. She lived with us. She probably would have lived to be 100 if not for cancer. We knew it was coming, but she fought so long.

That morning was tough. Waking up for school and getting ready to wrestle at WPIALs, my mom said, “Hey, grandma passed.” I had to kind of forget about it and wrestle. The WPIAL final was my 100th win. I had all my friends there, they all came out.

To get it done for her was pretty cool.

As a quarterback, you enter every contest with a game plan. Do you have that same mental approach with wrestling?

Oh, yeah. When you’re gearing up for the state tournament or WPIALs, you know the kids you’re going to be wrestling. I’ll go and watch film on them and know what they do. And you’ll watch film on yourself and find things you need to fix. There are a bunch of archived matches online. When the brackets come out, you say, “I might see this kid here and this kid there.” You definitely can gear up for them that way.

Which sport have you played the longest?

I think it’s wrestling. I remember whenever I was really young, it was baseball, wrestling and soccer. I said, “Dad, I just want to hit someone.” He said, “All right, time for football.” So I switched over to football and never looked back on soccer.

How do you balance the demands of wrestling with being a starting QB?

It’s crazy. My sophomore year, when we got the WPIAL title in football and went on to the state semis, that was definitely tough. We knew we had a good team coming back and I needed to fill the quarterback spot after Phil Jurkovec, so my whole summer was filled with football. I didn’t step on the mat at all after a big tournament on Memorial Day.

I didn’t wrestle at all and it showed going into the season. I was so out of shape. I didn’t even make the state tournament my sophomore year after placing my freshman year. Going into my junior year, I knew I had the starting spot at quarterback, so I definitely took a lot more time in wrestling. Every Sunday throughout the whole football season I was at my club wrestling, just trying to stay in shape as much as I can.

I guess it paid off.

Is there a difference between football shape and wrestling shape?

Yes. Being in shape and being in wrestling shape are two completely different things. That’s the same with football and wrestling. For football, my coaches say, “We need you big. We need you big.” I wrestle at 154 (pounds). They said, “If you come it at 154, we’re going to kill you.” Right now, I’m probably like 175. If I wrestle a week straight, I’d probably be back down to 165. Just walking in that wrestling room, I lose 10 pounds right away.

At quarterback, I’m not even sweating half the time. With some of those games last year, I’m out by halftime. I didn’t even break a sweat.

Might you wrestling at a higher weight class next winter?

I might be 160 or 162. Right now, I’m trying to see how big I can get. I’m trying to eat everything in sight. For wrestling, I think it will be better if I weigh a little bit more. We’ll see what happens and where I end up.

How did you stay busy with schools closed?

Right when it all started I said, me and my brother, we need a wrestling mat. We have a nice warehouse down at the end of my driveway, so we got a little 14-by-14 wrestling mat. Me and him were down there, and some of my wresting friends would come over and we’d wrestle with them in the warehouse. That was a big help.

(Note: His brother Vaughn Spencer won a junior high state wrestling title in March.)

What did you like about Penn?

Definitely the academics, and especially the business school. After I gave them my SAT scores, they said they thought I was good for a spot at Wharton, their business school. I was like, “I’m in.” It’s not too, too far from home, and their wrestling is on the rise too. They also have a regional training center and the head coach of the RTC is the Olympic coach. The guys he’s bringing in are competing for Olympic gold medals. That’s everything I wanted right there.

Did you always plan to wrestle in college?

In the back of my head I thought maybe football was an option, but then I said, “I’m 5-10. Maybe I should stick to wrestling.” If the height was there, maybe it would be a little different. But wrestling is a good fit.

Did you ever feel pressure to prove you could play quarterback at Pine-Richland?

After that IMG Academy game (in Week Zero of 2018), a lot of people even at my school were like, “We want Phil back. We wish Phil was here.” People were skeptical about me, but I guess after that full season they said, “OK. The kid can play.”

What are your expectations for 2020-21?

Two state titles — one in football and one in wrestling — nothing less. Anything but that would be a disappointment.

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

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