Evanson: A sad end to a life that should be celebrated
Spencer Webb's career at the University of Oregon, for all intents and purposes, started with a 20-yard touchdown grab from Justin Herbert in the Ducks' 2019 opening game with Auburn.
Unfortunately, that same career ended tragically this past week when the projected 2022 starter at tight end was found dead at the bottom of a cliff at Triangle Lake, 35 miles west of Eugene.
But while the 22-year-old was lost to what has been reported as a heartbreaking accident, his story can only be described as a win for a young man who had beaten the odds.
Many are born fortunate — parents who provide and nurture; money; structure; and support. Webb didn't have that.
Raised by his older brother and his wife after his parents died, the young teen chose success over failure at every turn.
He spun a failing middle school report card into a 3.4 grade point average upon high school graduation, and that coupled with his size and athletic gifts into scholarship offers from 22 schools including Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Florida State, nearly half of the Pac-12, and even Ivy League schools Yale, Dartmouth, Princeton and Brown. Not bad for a struggling middle-schooler.
The 6-foot-5 athlete picked Oregon, where over his four-year and two-and-a-half-season career, he tallied 31 receptions for 296 yards and four touchdowns in 29 games played.
But more than what he accomplished on the field, it was what he accomplished off of it that had people talking upon learning of his death.
It's easy to root for teams and the star players that make them up. Touchdowns, home runs and game-winning shots are currency for players like Webb, buying the cheers and adoration that sports fans are more than happy to offer in return. It's a transaction long ago agreed upon by fanatics and the teams they've come to love, and one nearly as certain as death and taxes. But when current Oregon head coach Dan Lanning, former Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal, and countless friends and teammates went to Twitter to honor their friend, they spoke not to Webb the football player, but rather the man they were going to miss.
Dan Lanning said, "So full of life in every moment of the day. Your smile and energy will be missed Spencer. I love you!"
Oregon tight end Cam McCormick said, "I can't say how thankful I am for you coming into my life, being a part of my family, and always being you … blood was the only thing that could've made us closer."
Dylan Reubenking, co-founder and publisher of The Transfer Portal CFB, said he'd remember Webb for "his passion for helping others and being there for people. He had a special desire to give back and to inspire the next generation. He was a role model and a positive influence to everyone who had the pleasure of meeting him."
And now-University of Miami head coach Mario Cristobal said, "Love you. Will always be proud of you. Rest in peace brother."
Those are not words praising a football player, but rather a young man who made a difference.
We never got to see what would come of Spencer Webb's football career, but far sadder is what we won't see will become of the boy who overcame the odds en route to the man so worthy of praise. But while we we'll never know what could've been, those close to him knew what was — a friend, teammate, and man to be proud of, and football had little to do with it.
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