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Dyslexia paves a challenging road to the NFL for Baylor's Spencer Drango

Posted Feb 24, 2016

Baylor offensive lineman Spencer Drango will face the challenging task of learning NFL pro-style offenses and doing so with dyslexia.

INDIANAPOLIS — A large percentage of the questions posed to NFL Draft prospects centers around how they'll adjust for the NFL's prototypical styles. For defensive players, maybe it's their fit in a 3-4 scheme vs. their fit in a 4-3 scheme, or their fits in gap-scheme philosophies. But for offensive linemen, it's pretty much always the same: How will you adjust for the NFL's pro-style offenses?

With the rise of up-tempo, no-huddle spread offenses that keep defenses tired and on the field, the presence of hand-in-the-dirt offensive linemen has ebbed, though it hasn't disappeared. So when transitioning from college to the next level, players receive questions about how they'll adapt.

"It is more difficult [to evaluate players in those systems] because of the types of things they are doing—especially watching them in the run game," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "When they are in the spread game, it’s a little bit of a different type of run game as far as watching a guy come off the ball and power-type football and those types of things. I think evaluating their football knowledge [is important]."

Kubiak mentioned that 2015 fourth-round pick Max Garcia understood the game at a level that gave the Broncos confidence that he would transition easily.

Being able to learn and apply the fundamentals of pro-style schemes to one's prior working knowledge is key. But what it learning is a challenge in itself?

That's the task at hand for Baylor offensive lineman Spencer Drango, who has dyslexia. As a child, Drango took classes to cope with his reading disorder and with his determination, became a grade-A student. A three-time Academic All-Big 12 honoree and two-time Dean's List member, Drango added to his scholastic accolades in 2015 when he was named one of 12 finalists for the 2015 William V. Campbell Trophy, which recognizes college football players for their outstanding performance in school.

"That was something entirely unexpected, really. Some of the guys there were, like, Rhodes Scholar finalists and 4.0 [GPAs] and chemistry [majors] and all these things. So it was really a big honor to be there and just to be named as a finalist," Drango said.

"It proves that hard work and dedication really does pay off, because having dyslexia as a kid, no one ever thought that—I definitely didn't think that I would be in that position. I've been very fortunate and blessed with the people that have been in my life to help me out. My parents have done an amazing job raising me, if I say so myself. They're very supportive; they got me the classes that I needed to take to overcome dyslexia and then once I got rolling and learned how to learn, again, everything kind of clicked."

Finding solutions to dyslexia is not the same for each person who has it. Drango took classes that resembled "Hooked on Phonics" and relearned how to read and how to learn in a different way that ensures that things stick for him.

That translated over to football and it hasn't raised any kind of issue for him on the field since he first began playing.

"If one thing doesn't work, don't give up and keep trying something else, because eventually you'll find some way that you learn and play the best," he says. "Keep persevering and try to find a way to learn it the best. It hasn't really affected me at all. […] I had to learn the game and that was a little overwhelming at first, but once I learned the game, dyslexia hasn't affected me."

Learning a different style of offense will be a challenge for Drango, and that would be the case even if he didn't have dyslexia. The playbook at Baylor was nothing like what he'll see in the NFL. But it's a challenge he's already taken some steps toward solving.

"Going back to the Senior Bowl, that was the first time really experiencing all the verbiage and I think I played really well," Drango said. "I had a good week and it wasn't really an issue for me. Once I picked it up, it was pretty easy. You just have to listen to certain key words and everything else is talking to other people. So that's kind of how I approach it."

As for how his football IQ fits in that equation, Drango is in the same boat with Kubiak.

"I think intelligence is a big deal," Drango said. "There's a lot of moving parts at this next level. At Baylor we try to keep things simple because we like to go fast. But at the next level, there's a lot of different things that need to go on, just the IQ of people, everyone around you is really, really intelligent—football IQ, especially. So you just have to know what's going on."

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