Title: A Herculean Force Speron leads Benet's quest to conquer all foes.(Sports Extra (High School))
Date: September 26, 1997 Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) Author: Bush, JoeByline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
There was this strong guy in Greco-Roman mythology who as a servant to his brother had to perform 12 tasks; clean some stables, kill some monsters, fetch some golden apples, tame a three-headed dog.
His name was Hercules, and he was the son of Zeus, the big daddy of Greek gods.
There's this strong guy who one day could be in Benet Academy's mythology. Last summer he hiked up California's 14,494-foot Mt. Whitney - the tallest peak in the lower 48 states - earned the honor of representing Benet at an Illinois high school leadership conference, attended two football camps, visited five Eastern universities and spent two weeks in Arizona.
His name is Eric, but his middle name is Hercules, and he's the son of Steve, the owner of Steve's Gyros in Lombard.
Eric Hercules Speron does heroic things on the football field, as well.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior defensive end and Redwings co-captain will be in the thick of the Redwings' attempt to corral the near-mythic running of Marian Catholic's Terrence Pirtle tomorrow at 1:30 p.m in Lisle.
Pirtle is well on his way to 1,500 yards, while Benet feels this is its year to not only qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1988, but to make a dent in them.
"Our school hasn't been interested in football the least bit," Speron says. "We're the only team that doesn't have a banner up in the gym. I mean, it's pathetic.
"This is the year we can do something about it, and we're gonna."
So one of Speron's tasks is to help restore glory to the program, and another is to stop Pirtle. Marian Catholic thrives on off-tackle plays, and Redwings coach Gary Goforth moved the three-year starter from defensive tackle this season for just such occasions.
It's not enough that Speron will line up across from a 300-pound tackle.
"This week I guess the fullback's gonna come at me, and then the guard and the tight end," Speron says. "They're gonna triple-team me. I invite the challenge. If they're gonna be running to me, I can control what happens. I'd rather them run to me any day."
So would Goforth, who has watched Speron grow physically - from a 6-foot-1, 190-pound sophomore tackle - and as a person.
Despite a divorce which has Speron and his brother Roman living in Naperville with their mother Bev and a stepfather, Speron couldn't be happier.
He visits Steve at his restaurant three times a week for meals which include two or three "beefs" and spends Thursday nights with him. He says their relationship is stronger than it's ever been.
Speron has good enough grades for him to consider playing Ivy League football, he's the senior-class treasurer and he's one of the leaders of one of the best teams in Class 4A.
"My life's gotten a lot better," Speron says. "Football, school. My grades have gone up a ton."
Speron credits the jump in grades to his switch to Benet from Naperville's public schools.
"It's just like a new environment, you get a chance to meet new people," Speron says. "The people here are all going to college."
Speron is one of them, and may get some financial help if he continues his level of play. Last week he made back-to-back stops to halt a late Carmel drive in a 28-21 Benet win.
Speron leaped to smother a pass on third down at the Redwings 16, then shared a sack with Scott Graves on fourth down. For the game, Speron had 6 solo tackles, 8 assists, a tackle for loss and a caused fumble.
"We needed some big plays from our seniors," Goforth says. "(Speron) just rose to the occasion. Eric's finally come of age."
Indeed, Speron's miserable experience in the trenches on a 2-7 1995 squad makes him appreciate his responsibilities at end this season. In his first varsity game, he was devoured by Fenwick's Marques Sullivan, now a starter at Illinois.
"Most teams are gonna run off-tackle, or they're gonna sweep - those are the two basic plays in football," Speron says. "I'm in a position to stop both of them.
"It's a lot different ballgame. You're out there, you have one shoulder of an offensive tackle to work on and the tight end comes down on you.
"Not guard, center every play, double-teaming you. Especially when I was younger, it was just so demeaning every play to get 250-pound guys to just fall on top of me every single play. Now I can see the field. I can pursue a lot better. Make plays."
Speron is much better equipped to take on guards, fullbacks and tailbacks after gaining 50 pounds since his sophomore season. Weight-room dedication along with those visits to Steve's beef emporium have done the trick.
The extra weight hasn't hampered his conditioning for two reasons: that five-day trip to the top of Mt. Whitney, and his first-year stint as a part-time offensive guard.
Though he didn't get to lift weights as much as he would have liked because of his summer wanderings, Speron found that walking up steep inclines with a heavy backpack has its effect on a guy.
"After Whitney, my legs were shot," Speron says. "I had blisters for two weeks and couldn't move my legs. It was like squat repetitions for a day. It was, seriously, at least a week before I could move my legs."
Speron played on the offensive line his freshman year, so he has been one of the few defensive Redwings to sit in on offensive meetings the past three seasons.
The call came this season, and while Speron adjusts to two-way play a little at a time, he's in for crucial third-down plays and important series.
By the time the weather's cooler - playoff time - he could be blocking full time or he could give way to junior Mike Greenfield if Greenfield is ready.
"We needed guys to move people out," Goforth says. "Eric could do it."
"It's not as tough as defense," Speron says. "You can tie and still win on offense. On defense, you've really gotta beat 'em to make a difference."
Speron would like to make that impact as an inside linebacker. He practiced middle linebacker at the Northwestern and Princeton camps he attended last summer and plays there on goal-line defense.
"Defensive end, I'm taking on the same kind of guys," Speron says. "I get fullbacks 60 to 70 percent of the time anyway now. I think I can find the ball pretty well. We'll see how much speed I need to pick up."
Goforth says he needs Speron's size on the line in the Catholic League, but has no trouble seeing Speron behind the line someday.
"He has a knack of running people down," Goforth says. "I think the college that gets him will get a diamond."
Speaking of colleges, Vanderbilt and Missouri are the largest to express interest in Speron. Bev, who "doesn't know a linebacker from a running back," according to Speron, is learning fast.
Since Vanderbilt called, she's taken a crash course in the sport. There was a picture of Roman, a junior Redwings running back, in the paper last week, and she ordered 11 copies of the photo.
"She asks me how practice goes, I tell her, she doesn't know if that's good or bad," Speron says. " 'What do you mean you hurt a kid? Are they gonna kick you off the team?' It's good she's interested now."
While Speron gets his size from Steve, he gets the love of football from Bev's side of the family. Past family gatherings wouldn't be the same without impromptu gridiron clashes.
"Forty-year-old uncles of mine just go at it - dive through the middle, lay each other out, they've got knees that are not even there anymore," Speron says. "They're real competitive."
Before and after the 12 tasks, the original Hercules led men into battle and successfully waged war. A modern-day Hercules could hardly do otherwise.
"This is the best bunch of guys," Speron says of his teammates. "Everybody's really close. We all know where we wanna go. We're not gonna be happy making the playoffs like we would've been last year.
"We're going for 8-1. I don't think there's any reason in the world why we can't."
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COPYRIGHT 2009 Paddock Publications
COPYRIGHT 2009 Paddock Publications
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