Alex Spence kicks adversity to the curb … in a scholarly way
Alex Spence is the first to admit he hasn’t had many brushes with adversity in his 22 years.
The senior College of Business finance major has had straight A’s in his 16 years of school, except for one hiccup, the B he received in English as a college freshman. Alex has excelled in virtually everything he’s endeavored, from his years growing up in Florence to his time at Clemson University, where he maintains a 3.97 GPA.
So, when Alex was faced with real adversity for the first time in his life last fall, he was beside himself in figuring out a way to overcome it.
“As it turned out, it took someone else to recognize that I already had the answer to my problem,” he said. “It was simply a case of taking what made me successful in the classroom and applying it to the problem I was facing in another part of my life.”
That someone was Jeff Davis, director of player relations and external affairs for the Clemson football team, and the adversity was a lack of confidence Alex encountered soon after being thrust into the role as the team’s starting kicker. Alex’s opportunity – and dilemma – developed as a result of a season-ending injury to then-starting kicker, Greg Huegel.
“I was the back-up and wasn’t prepared mentally to immediately become the go-to guy. After a rough start at Syracuse, where I hit only one of three field goals, I sat down with Coach Davis. It turned out to be a good decision.”
Alex said the fallout from his slow start as the team’s No. 1 kicker prompted the meeting with Davis. Some social media jabs directed at him following the Syracuse loss were hurtful, but the thought of disappointing his teammates was the real incentive for him to right the ship, and fast.
“The first thing Coach Davis asked me was what made me so successful in the classroom,” Alex said. “I told him it was focus and a process I followed, from attending and listening intently in every class and taking efficient notes, to designated study time. I was very consistent in those routines.”
The sage advice Davis offered was for Alex to apply the same process and focus that made him comfortable in the classroom, to football.
“His advice was very straight forward and I took it to heart. After making some technique adjustments, I became more focused on being consistent in my routines. Not long after, I became less nervous, more confident and the process took care of itself, just like in the classroom.”
Alex finished the season strong by scoring 68 points and showed the consistency and confidence he had always exhibited in the classroom.
“I never had to deal with true adversity in my life, academic or otherwise, until then. Though, I wouldn’t want to do it over again, it was a life lesson and helped me grow more as a person than anything I experienced before,” Alex said. “I learned that by sticking to my work ethic and process, I can overcome just about any kind of setback.”
The focus and consistency that propelled Alex to be named to the academic All Atlantic Coast Conference football team and will enable him to graduate with high honors in May, is no surprise to Department of Finance senior lecturer Kerri McMillan, one of Alex’s favorite instructors.
“Alex had an ‘in the moment’ focus in class that enabled him to learn so much,” said McMillan, who taught him investment analysis and risk management. “As a result of his incredible work ethic, he was always engaged and prepared for class. It was an absolute pleasure to teach someone with his commitment to learning.”
Clemson has become a family affair for the children of Tim and Stacey Spence, both physicians in Florence. Alex is joined on the Clemson football team and in the College of Business by his brother Austin, a junior majoring in economics. His sister Sarah is a freshman in Clemson’s engineering program. “I’m quite certain my seventh-grade brother, Sam, will be a Tiger also,” Alex said.
With a year of football eligibility remaining, Alex plans to play again this fall, but says his search for a career in finance will begin in earnest with whatever free time he has.
“Ever since I took my first corporate finance class with department chair Angela Morgan, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue. I see myself as a financial analyst,” he said. “I really like solving analytical problems and see myself doing it for a company someday.”
Though the balance of football and academics can be demanding, Alex credits his love of the sport with making him a better student, and for kick starting a promising finance career.
“The routine football presents helped me be organized and not put things off. In a way, it helped me succeed academically because I had to be disciplined in every aspect of my life,” he said. “Having so many business professors who truly wanted me to succeed has also been a blessing. I will leave here knowing that I can overcome obstacles and succeed by sticking to the process and using the skills I’ve developed.”
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