The Metro Area Linemen Challenge concluded for the day with a final team huddle of a couple hundred or so of hardworking, hungry big guys hanging around Hare Field, ready to chow down at the nearby barbecue decked out with hamburgers, hot dogs and all the fixings.
The smell of summer goodness meanders over toward the large bunch, who catch wind of the aroma and instantly began running over toward the grill, hoping to get in the line first to feast.
Jesuit senior tackle Travis Spreen sprints over with a small faction of Crusaders who converge on the plastic plates and forks and start piling on different forms of red meat, ready to dig in. A large bandanna swathed with the American flag covers Spreen's forehead, holding back his long, flowing blonde hair that's wrapped high in a pony tail. For a second, as the ground beef begins to sizzle and the hot dogs are flipped, Spreen forgets an important detail about his diet — one his teammates jokingly remind him of.
"Maybe they have veggie burgers for you, man," Grayson Mondeaux said with a laugh.
At the center of Jesuit's retooled offensive line this season was Spreen, a vegetarian by choice who abstains from eating any sort of meat, be it beef, chicken, steak or even fish. In the fourth grade, Spreen watched "Food Inc.", "Forks and Knives" and a couple of other documentaries on the meat industry and decided consuming such creature-derived sustenance wasn't for him.
"I love animals," Spreen said with a smile. "Ever since then, it's honestly been second nature for me."
When it comes to protein intake, Spreen finds suitable sources from vegetarian meat supplements, eggs and nuts, and takes an iron supplement every day to get the necessary allotment. And while he does without hot dogs and hamburgers, Spreen said his particular food selection actually helps him on the field. The high-quality food derived from the plant-based program is Spreen's fuel on the gridiron.
When the fourth quarter rolls around and Jesuit is in the throes of mashing a gassed opponent into mincemeat, Spreen is normally fresh and full of energy in large part to the healthy food he consumes; or rather, the detrimental cuisine he refrains from.
"I have to hold myself to a higher standard and eat a little bit cleaner," Spreen said. "Instead of going out and eating 20 burgers the day before a game, I'll eat some pasta and a salad. Honestly, it's not as hard as people think."
His Twitter handle is @spinachjr66 — an ode to his love of vegetables — but Spreen is not a small individual by any means. At 6-foot-2, 300 pounds, with wavy, long blonde locks that he's had since the third grade and omnipresent bandanas keeping his mane intact, Spreen is a broad-shouldered version of Axl Rose, minus the tattoos. While most teenagers his age listen to Drake, Future and Travis Scott, Spreen gravitates toward Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Pantera or Metallica to get pumped up before a game.
"Guys love it when they're bumping rap and I come in blasting 'Four Horsemen' or something like that," Spreen said with a laugh.
Spreen is not your stereotypical jock, either. Sporting a 4.0 grade-point average with scholarship offers from nearly the entire Ivy League, Spreen will take on four or five Advanced Placement classes this year to prepare himself for the academic rigors of a potential first-rate university.
The hair, the diet, the musical selection, the sterling GPA: it all makes Spreen a unique, eccentric, yet popular and accepted individual on the Crusader football team.
"This has made me who I am and I think the other guys appreciate me being genuine and original," Spreen said. "I'm not trying to copy someone else, I'm not trying to be someone I'm not."
On the football field, Spreen is physically imposing. He's the same guy who, as a junior, went toe-to-toe with future Division One commits in Westview's Brandon Pili and Boogie Davis, and came away with a lauded highlight reel that's been sent all over the country. He's not only strong enough to hold his own against the behemoths inside, but the rising senior is spry and capable of moving to the second level and stamping linebackers, as he did against Madison in the 6A playoffs, putting future Kansas State linebacker Daniel Green on a poster with a flat-back block.
247Sports rated Spreen as the top center in the country in the spring, though that's not where you'll find the all-Metro lineman this season. As the Jesuit's lone returner up front, Spreen played left tackle — arguably the most important position along the offensive line — where he created holes for superstar running back Trey Lowe to skate through while protecting incumbent junior quarterback Will Spitznagel from blindsided blitzes and subsequent sack attempts. And while Spreen possesses all-state ability at center, he wants to diversify his abilities. Manning the left tackle spot, there will be times when Spreen is asked to block his man one-on-one with no help, as if he's on an island from the rest of the line.
The same goes for his leadership ability in the locker room. He's a senior, a two-year starter and one of Jesuit's more highly decorated and more importantly respected players on what should be a top-two team in the state. With all Spreen has seen and experienced during his Crusader tenure, younger players will look up to the presumed senior captain and watch how he conducts himself both on and off the field. It's a duty some would hang back from, but Spreen said he's used to standing out and being considered "different" than his peers.
"I've always been a person who's not necessarily quite like the rest," Spreen said. "I kind of follow the beat of my own drum and do my own thing. If people like it, sweet. If you people don't like it, then that's too bad. There's a lot of pressure being the only linemen coming back ... but I'm going to do whatever I can for my team. That's the basis for everything."
Spreen is the torchbearer for what Jesuit calls "The Franchise" — a moniker that was bestowed upon the Crusader offensive line three decades ago and has carried on from year-to-year. In an era where spread offenses are en vogue and skill players are highly sought after, the offensive line can be somewhat marginalized in today's game. Not at Jesuit. Under head coach Ken Potter and offensive line coach John Andreas, Jesuit will line up with eight men up front including two tight ends and blow foes off the ball. Their schemes are simple but crippling. The same philosophies and principles preached a decade ago still apply.
"There are no ifs, ands or buts about it, we're a downhill, run team," Andreas said. "We find people, and move people. We're very fundamental. Even in practice, we'll focus on our first two steps and then everything else kind of pours out of that. Kids enjoy that. If you're an offensive lineman, there's nothing better than run blocking. You can ask anybody from the highest level to the lowest level — that's where all the fun happens. It's something that's been ingrained in our system."
Lowe and his running back counterparts are known to get upwards of 40 carries a game, toting the rock behind a bedrock of prideful behemoths who take satisfaction in having a huge hand in winning.
"It's a brotherhood ... you have to a different type of breed to be able to play upfront and bang heads with kids for an entire game," Spreen said of The Franchise. "There are generations of people that have come before you and on top of that, you're playing for the future. You're a part of something that's bigger than yourself and that's something that's preached. It's not 'me, me, me', it's 'us as a unit,'"
With four all-state stars gone — all of whom are playing at the collegiate level — the Crusaders had to to find a foursome of new starters to continue the legacy left before them. Seth Monahan took Spreen's spot at center and became a first-team all-Metro competitior. Though Monahan weighs in around 240 pounds, Spreen said the rising junior has a non-stop motor and can move bigger defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage. Max Imponenti started at right tackle and earned all-league honors. Senior guard Cam Mahoney "brings the lumber" to the line, Spreen said. Junior Joe Quillin played a lot of defense last year but will played on both sides of the ball.
There were preseason questions to answer and positions to restock, but no mistake, Jesuit was stacked. Spreen, Lowe, Mahoney, cornerback Briceton Branch, tight end/linebacker Isaiah Henderson-Brazie were all sophomores on the heralded 2015 team that won the Class 6A state championship is quite possibly one of the state's best teams of all time. Spreen and company, however, weren't content with just single title.
"I wanted to win one more ring before I got out of here," Spreen said with a smile.
The move to tackle was seamless as could be this season. Spreen garnered first-team all-Metro League honors at both offensive and defensive line. This fall Spreen picked up scholarship offers from the University of Southern California and Stanford, adding to his already impressive list of potential suitors. Because of his experience at center, Spreen could possibly play left or right guard at the collegiate level. And with the extensive time he saw at left tackle this season, Spreen has the capability to play all five positions up front, which is a big-time luxury for any collegiate program seeking smarts, versatility and the ability to learn new positions and flourish in those said roles.
Spreen will decide between his Ivy League choices, the Pac-12 powers or any other school that offers by National Signing Day in February.