After earning All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore in 2013 – and Academic All-Big Ten honors as well – defensive end Noah Spence was in line to be a huge factor the next season for an Ohio State team that ended up winning the national championship.
Instead, because of some off-the-field decisions not befitting an honor roll student, Spence found himself banned by the Big Ten.
"I failed two drug tests, and that got me suspended," Spence said. "I'm just telling the truth. My whole story, it's all out there."
But that isn't the end of Spence's story, one that he hopes has a happy ending.
"I've grown from the situation," Spence said, "and I've become a better person."
A few prospects like Spence come along every season. It's hard enough for NFL scouts to truly figure out how a player will perform as a pro. Add in uncertainty about whether he'll stay in line off the field, and the decision-making process can be even murkier.
It's even more important to make the right decision with a prospect like Spence, who is almost universally regarded as a first-round talent. He's said and done all the right things since departing Ohio State, but some teams would rather be safe than sorry – especially in the early rounds of the draft.
"With anybody with a substance abuse problem, I feel like they're pretty leery about it," Spence said about how NFL teams view him. "But you can convince the team it's behind you."
Spence missed the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2013 season and was suspended for the first two games of the 2014 season when he failed a drug test at the Big Ten Championship. Just before he was set to return, Ohio State announced that Spence had failed another drug test (both reportedly for Ecstasy) and would be out indefinitely. Later in the regular season, the Big Ten announced the permanent ban.
A week after Ohio State won the national title sans Spence, he transferred to Eastern Kentucky. He picked up right where he left off as far an on-the-field performance this past season at the Football Championship Subdivision school, racking up 11.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss.
But more importantly than any of that, things changed off the field.
"I knew why I was there. I knew it was a business trip for me," Spence said. "There's a group of people I can't hang with. I have to be more myself and stay away from that party scene.
"I put my focus more on football, school and stuff like that. I have a girlfriend now. I go to movies, chill, stuff like that. I don't do much partying nowadays."
His parents and frequent drug testing have helped keep Spence accountable, and the positive signs off the field and his obvious talent on the field have him in the discussion as a possible first-round pick.
"I don't have any expectations. I'm just blessed to be in this situation," Spence said. "Wherever I go is fine with me."
Where and when he goes will be fascinating to watch.