COLUMBIA — He was 4 years old when his mother first noticed that she had a tough kid on her hands. Running full speed at the family’s home in Wellsville, Tyler Sprigg’s head suddenly met the tailgate of his father’s truck. Seconds later, with a fresh knot on the left side of his forehead, Sprigg popped up and resumed his full-out sprint.
Now a senior at Hickman High School, Sprigg uses the reckless abandon of his childhood on the football field as an impact player on both offense and defense for the Kewpies.
HICKMAN (0-1) v. WENTZVILLE HOLT (0-1)
After their opening-week loss to Rock Bridge in the Providence Bowl, the Kewpies look to rebound against Wentzville Holt, which fell 58-16 to Francis Howell in its opener.
Time: 7 p.m., Friday
Location: Hickman Field
Radio: KTGR 1580AM
ROCK BRIDGE (1-0) v. RIVERVIEW GARDENS (0-1)
Rock Bridge goes for a 2-0 start against a visiting Riverview Gardens, a team they beat 36-32 in 2009. Riverview Gardens dropped its opener to Chaminade 49-20.
Time: 7 p.m., Friday
Location: Rock Bridge Field
Radio: KFRU 1400 AM
Sprigg tells the stories of his younger days in a quiet, easy manner despite the painful stories of broken bones and myriad childhood injuries. He doesn’t stop to reflect on the pain. He forgets it, blocks it out and speaks only of persevering and not wanting to let his teammates down.
He points to a plaque on the wall that hangs above a “Certificate of Excellence.” In sixth grade, Sprigg’s Columbia Youth Football League team, the Chiefs, on which numerous current Hickman and Rock Bridge starters played, went undefeated.
Sprigg smiled. “That’s when I fell in love with the game,” he said. “We didn’t have much in terms of expectations. We were small, but we played hard and we succeeded.”
Enter the team concept, something that Sprigg didn’t learn just from an undefeated youth football season. In 2000, his parents divorced, a heartbreaking experience that he initially had trouble dealing with.
“I cried,” he said. “I really didn’t like it.”
But Jodi and Mike Sprigg knew they had a responsibility to make sure their son grew from the experience to become an intelligent, confident young man. They bridged their differences that caused the divorce. They planned how to provide the best support system for their son.
“We were able to rely on each other,” Mike Sprigg said. “From a child’s perspective, it’s good for them to know that their parents are on the same page.”
Jodi Sprigg put it more simply.
“We were a team.”
From a first glance, Sprigg doesn’t appear to be a physical force. He is 6 feet, 4 inches tall, and Hickman coach Jason Wright says his listed weight of 200 pounds “could be an embellishment.” So it is a credit to Sprigg's will that he is playing tight end, wide receiver and defensive end for the Kewpies.
He also happens to play those positions well. Sprigg turned heads with the raw statistics from the Kewpies' game Friday against Rock Bridge. He had five tackles on defense and seven catches for 66 yards, the last two coming at critical points in the game for the Kewpies.
With Kewpies trailing 20-17, Sprigg grabbed a pass on fourth-and-goal to thrust Hickman into the lead for the first time that night with 1:45 remaining. He caught a pass for the two-point conversion on the next play.
“That was an unbelievable catch and finish,” Wright said of the touchdown. “He takes a hit in his back but still has the desire and gumption to finish the play.”
Sprigg never stops hustling. He never stops running routes, catching passes or delivering monster blocks. The most impressive stat from the Rock Bridge game is that Sprigg played about 130 of the game's 140 snaps, according to Wright.
“For him to do what he does at the level that he does — that’s a credit to his physical ability,” Wright said.
The funny thing is that Sprigg doesn’t see himself as special. He called his endurance “not great” and said he didn’t see himself as the strongest player on the team.
But his teammates call him a quiet leader who proves himself on the field and shows his fellow Kewpies how to play hard every down and through significant pain.
“He’s a quiet guy, but he does some pumping up on the field,” teammate Dylan Rodes said. “He’s mentally tough and the biggest team player you’ll find.”