CEDAR FALLS — When the Missouri Valley Football Conference appeared to be headed toward the cancellation of its fall 2020 season in early August, speculation of top players in the league transferring to FBS programs became rampant.
Northern Iowa — with three 2021 NFL Draft prospects on its roster — seemed destined at the time to lose those three players as they found somewhere else to play.
For a while, it became reality for Panthers fans, as defensive end Elerson G. Smith and defensive back Xavior Williams entered the transfer portal. However, as more leagues announced cancellations of fall football, the opportunities quickly evaporated for FCS players and both Smith and Williams pulled themselves out of the portal.
Offensive tackle Spencer Brown — UNI’s third 2021 NFL Draft prospect — never entered the transfer portal.
While fans were feeling the sting, it wasn’t hard to understand why players confronted with these unprecedented circumstances would look to transfer.
So, why didn’t Brown?
“That might be the case,” Brown said about being able to transfer elsewhere and start. “But, it’s not Trevor Penning, it’s not Nick Ellis, it’s not Mason Neisen, it’s not Erik Sorenson, it’s not those guys I’m playing with or any of (our) other guys. I don’t want to go somewhere and have them reap the benefits of what UNI did for me for five years. It just wouldn’t sit with me well. I’m not knocking anyone else that goes in the transfer portal and has to do what they have to do, but that’s not my cup of tea. I don’t want to be around people that didn’t like me from the start.”
Brown’s loyalty to UNI comes in part from head coach Mark Farley and the staff seeing what he could become.
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At Lenox High School, the 6-foot-9 Brown starred on their 8-player football team as a tight end and defensive lineman, but he was just 230 pounds as a senior and far from the top of anyone’s recruit list.
Farley and the UNI staff, however, saw a perfect frame for a future offensive lineman who ultimately became a 2020 preseason All-American.
“If you would have sat me down as a junior in high school and told me all this was going to happen, I’d probably laugh and walk out and be laughing as I’m going home, going ‘can you believe that guy?’” Brown said. “I didn’t think I was very good at all and I still don’t think I’m that good. I’m just grateful UNI gave me a chance, and I kept my head down every single day and worked day-in and day-out. I had a good group of guys around me to motivate me and a great group of coaches and strength staff to help develop me, as well.”
With UNI not pursuing games this fall, it’s likely Brown has played his last game as a Panther. It’s an unfortunate ending to a great career, but the work doesn’t stop as he’s shifted his focus toward preparing for the NFL Draft in April.
“There’s the saying that life is 10 percent of what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it,” Brown said. “So, just being able to adapt, and you can’t really dwell on it and sit on your butt and feel sorry for yourself. My playing days hopefully aren’t over. It sucks, but you can’t stop working.”