MOUNT VERNON — Milton Spradley has visited around the world, spending time in Japan, Guam, the Caribbean and Central America.
Many of his travels have been to see relatives, but one trip with a neighboring family stands out among the rest. Just before his senior year of high school, Spradley accompanied them to Guatemala for a mission trip, working with underprivileged families. The experience provided him with a perspective different from other college athletes.
“It made me thankful for what my parents were able to give me and the life they provided,” the Cornell College senior linebacker said. “Not everybody has that same experience in the world. It was a really humbling experience.”
Spradley has taken his opportunity to continue his football career, becoming a defensive leader during his four seasons with the Rams. He will play his last home game Saturday at Ash Park when Cornell hosts Knox, beginning at 1 p.m.
“Honestly, the four years I’ve been here have gone by so fast,” said Spradley, whose sister, Jackie, began attending the University of Iowa the same year he arrived. “It feels like the other day I was a freshman new to Iowa, coming from Florida and trying to adjust to the cold and being away from home.
“Now, I call this place my home. It’s crazy if you think about it.”
Spradley enjoys the laid back small-town lifestyle, which isn’t much different from his home of Mount Dora, Fla., but it’s a stark contrast to the environment he experienced in Guatemala.
His parents, Milton and Emilyn, have been involved in mission work through church, so he accepted when friends offered the opportunity to help outside the borders. Spradley spent a week in Guatemala City and in mountain regions, building houses for families that lost their fathers. They also worked with orphanages, spending time supporting and helping children.
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“It was a really eye-opening experience,” Spradley said. “Really take for granted the stuff we have stateside. Things we say is normal but people don’t normally have in the world.”
Spradley witnessed true adversity, which is a term used in sports way too loosely. He takes a blown assignment hard, but he understands there are greater battles being waged daily.
“Not making a tackle or missing a coverage is such a small thing compared to not knowing where your next meal is going to come from,” Spradley said. “I do face adversity on the field, but it is nothing compared to bigger adversities that people face in life just to survive.
“I have a lot of respect for people that wake up every day knowing they don’t have much but they make the best of it. They live their best lives to the best of their ability.”
Spradley is a captain for the Rams. Cornell Coach Vince Brautigam said the team’s leading tackler might be an even better person than player.
“He’s just a great human,” Brautigam said. “Not only is he a great football player but he’s a tremendous young man.”
Spradley admitted he struggled when he first reached campus. He battled some homesickness, but he was able to shed it with the help of his new kin that took the field with him.
“Being away from home is kind of a normal thing for me, but being away from home and not really having my parents by my side was definitely different,” Spradley said. “It took some time to adjust. I called my mom and dad every day so I felt at home.
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“At times, the football team is like having another family. These guys I’ve made friends with here are going to be guys I’ll have in my wedding. They will be guys I know the rest of my life, because of the connection we’ve made.”
The 6-foot, 190-pound linebacker is coming off second-team all-Midwest Conference honors last season, leading the team with 91 tackles and 64 solo. The latter is tied for ninth among the program’s single-season records.
He has been reliable, playing in 36 games in his career. He has 71 tackles this season, including 55 solo stops. Spradley actually ranks 10th overall with 164 career solo tackles.
“He has done everything we’ve asked,” Brautigam said. “The kid will never complain about playing anything, whether it’s moving on defense or playing special teams. He’ll do whatever the team needs. I have tremendous respect for him.”
Spradley said he would like to stay in the area for a little bit after graduation. He also aspires to return to Florida and take over his father’s business, which has been in operation for more than 30 years. Right now, Spradley is focused on making the most of this experience and taking the turf at Ash Park one more time.
“I love it, waking up every morning that I can still play college football, because I have a lot of friends back home that don’t have that opportunity,” Spradley said. “I am really enjoying these few weeks of football I’ll be able to play.
“It’s great to have a wonderful team and the coaches to put me in position to be successful and be a leader. It’s great and I love everything about Cornell and the situation that I’m in.”
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