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Dick Harmon: BYU linebacker Spencer Hadley's journey the past year provides lessons for us all

Published: Monday, May 12 2014 7:15 p.m. MDT

Suspended  linebacker Spencer Hadley talks to Brigham Young Cougars defensive back Skye PoVey (7) prior to the BYU Cougars playing Middle Tennessee State in NCAA football Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, in Provo.  
 (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Suspended linebacker Spencer Hadley talks to Brigham Young Cougars defensive back Skye PoVey (7) prior to the BYU Cougars playing Middle Tennessee State in NCAA football Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, in Provo. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Spencer Hadley will get a chance to make it in the NFL.

He’s taken a different path than most.

Last summer, Hadley was on track to have a spectacular senior season at BYU. How could he fail playing alongside Kyle Van Noy, Uani ‘Unga and Alani Fua in a loaded linebacking crew on BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall's defense?

Then came the week of the Utah game in September. Somebody with a controversial photo of Hadley taken in Las Vegas sent the image to Utah’s NCAA compliance officer, and it was forwarded to BYU. Hadley admitted to drinking alcohol, something celebrated on almost every other university campus in America.

Hadley was immediately suspended in a very public fashion. His mistake chronicled on ESPN's SportsCenter, Hadley was embarrassed, humiliated and guilty of violating the school's honor code. He missed games against Utah, Middle Tennessee and Utah State.

Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Spencer Hadley (2) is greeted by teammate Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver JD Falslev (12) while running out onto the field for warmups prior to the Cougars game against Boise State at Lavell Edwards Stadium on Friday, October 25, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Spencer Hadley (2) is greeted by teammate Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver JD Falslev (12) while running out onto the field for warmups prior to the Cougars game against Boise State at Lavell Edwards Stadium on Friday, October 25, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

But more seriously, Hadley was emotionally hammered that he let down young people who may have looked up to him and betrayed his teammates, family and friends.

Mendenhall cut his five-game suspension of Hadley to three games. The senior linebacker returned to practice the week of a game with Georgia Tech and was able to get back on the field. But in BYU’s ninth game of the season, in the first defensive series at Wisconsin, Hadley felt his knee pop and was carried off the field.

Twice in three months, Hadley’s world had been turned upside down. Laying in bed with a mobilizer on his knee for a torn MCL — knowing he’d likely miss games with Idaho State, Notre Dame, Nevada and the bowl game and steeped in disappointment for the choices he’d made — Hadley couldn’t get out of bed.

Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Spencer Hadley (2) celebrates holding Texas Longhorns on 4th down in Provo  Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. BYU won 40-21.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Spencer Hadley (2) celebrates holding Texas Longhorns on 4th down in Provo Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. BYU won 40-21. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

It wasn’t that he couldn’t — he didn’t want to. That is how his senior season ended at BYU. He never played another down after he left Madison, Wisconsin, on Nov. 9.

Over the weekend, Hadley signed with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent and found himself waiting for a flight to Louisiana on Sunday.

In a moment of reflection, Hadley reached out to friends and family on social media, humbled, grateful and contrite.

Thomas Edison failed a thousand times before he succeeded. Hadley is smart enough to know he has to put his failures behind him. In an interview with KSL-TV anchor Dave McCann on April 6, Hadley said he has tried to forget the suspension and injury.

He’s had a saying he likes to remember, that when going about life casually, life results in casualty. He’s tried to be less casual about personal prayer and reading scriptures and church attendance, staples of his life growing up.

Spencer Hadley makes a catch as he runs drills as former BYU football players take part Friday, March 14, 2014 in the pro day at the indoor practice facility in Provo. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Spencer Hadley makes a catch as he runs drills as former BYU football players take part Friday, March 14, 2014 in the pro day at the indoor practice facility in Provo. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

I like the Hadley story. He’s not a perfect man, but he didn’t quit when he stumbled. That takes guts.

Motivational speaker and writer Bob Webb put it this way:

“Failure is discouraging, it drains energy and resources, but it forces us to do things right. Failure separates those who think they want success from those who are determined to win. Failure narrows the playing field. The first people out are those that blame others. Next out are those who lose interest. The weak go first. The strong learn to hang in there and keep bouncing back until they win.”

Sitting in the Salt Lake International Airport on Sunday, Hadley quoted from President Dieter F. Uchdorf, a member of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: "Our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble, but by the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off and move forward."

Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Spencer Hadley (2) looks to get to Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Vad Lee (2) during a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2013.  (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Spencer Hadley (2) looks to get to Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Vad Lee (2) during a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

Waiting for his flight, he said it was a time to contemplate this free agent opportunity to move forward.

“Stumbling is not a foreign concept to me or any of us wading through this mortal life," said Hadley. "There have been times where I have entertained the thought of staying put, lying face down in the dirt, times where rising up and dusting myself off was the last thing I ever wanted to do. It was in those moments I heard many of your voices: intimate messages of inspiration and private votes of confidence that gave me the strength to move.

“There are many people I ought to thank more personally, but time is no longer a luxury I posses. So this pathetic attempt will have to do. Thank you, to all those who believed in me and pushed me to be better. Thank you to those who have called, texted, Facebook messaged, etc., the outpouring of support is humbling. New Orleans is unfamiliar territory, but even now I hear your voices and one foot moves in front of the other. Thank you.”

Last summer, I predicted Hadley would prove to be one of BYU’s best defensive weapons. I was wrong. His senior season was a disaster.

But today, after what’s transpired, I respect him even more.

Who knows what New Orleans has in store for the guy.

Hadley is a far better man today than he was a year ago, and there’s a lesson there for us all.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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