Junior quarterback Justice Spriggs has helped to turn the Hamline University Pipers football team into an up-and-coming program in the MIAC, embracing all the challenges and opportunities that have come along the way.
Introducing Justice Spriggs
A cliché that you will likely come across somewhere in your life is that someone has a “chip on their shoulder.” This usually has a negative connotation, where some kind of slight or insult has made it so that a person is unable to move on or is acting in an erratic or hostile way because of the manner in which they were treated.
However, this is not always the way that a person responds to such a chip. There are those who take it and use it as a motivator to help drive themselves toward greater success. The chip becomes more of a beacon, directing them to believe that any obstacle that gets in their way must be overcome. It’s a special kind of motivator that takes a unique kind of person to use it to help them to reach a higher plateau of excellence. It takes a special kind of person, such as Hamline University quarterback Justice Spriggs, who has use that chip to become one of the most feared quarterbacks in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC).
Establishing an Impressive Resume
Justice Spriggs grew up the son of a football coach, meaning he was around the sport from a very early age. In fact, some of his earliest memories centered around the gridiron, helping him to develop a true love for the game.
“The first time I really got interested in football it was kind of being around my dad. He played college football and then he was a high school coach and still is right now. I remember being three, four, five years old running around the practices, helping the ball boy. I’ve kind of always known it as part of my life and just loved it.”
Justice not only excelled on the football field, but was also a star athlete in basketball and baseball. He attended St. Anthony Village High School, where he was the captain of the baseball team and a starter in all three sports.
However, it was on the gridiron where the quarterback really excelled. Three times he was named an All-Metro Conference honoree, and was the captain of the football team in his last two years at school. In his senior season, Justice threw for over 1,600 yards with 13 touchdowns, while also running for 335 yards and eight scores.
He also starred on the defensive side of the ball, an oddity for a player who is the start quarterback. Justice manned the middle linebacker position for the Huskies where he led the Huskies in tackles in his senior season with 133.
Success Can Have Its Pitfalls
With the numbers that Justice Spriggs had produced, it would seem logical that he would be a highly recruited athlete at quarterback, but that didn’t proved to be the case. Most of the schools sought to turn the star QB into a defensive end or linebacker permanently, because he had shown equal skill and prowess on the defensive side of the ball. The failure of these schools to give Justice an opportunity to play the quarterback opened the door for Hamline University to sign their future star.
“One of the big things out of high school was that I wanted to play quarterback. A lot of the schools who recruited me saw me as a defensive player, as a linebacker or defensive end, but Hamline was one of the few that said right from the beginning that they were recruiting me only as a quarterback. I came here on a couple of visits and really loved the coaches and loved the people. It just felt like home.”
In his freshman season, Justice began the year as the fifth string quarterback. Many young men might have thought about moving to another position, knowing that they were so far down the depth chart, however, if you knew anything about Justice Spriggs you would know that all that did was help to generate even greater motivation.
“I came here and I was the fifth string quarterback as a freshman and I just put my head down and worked hard. That brought me to where I am today.”
The hard work paid off. On October 17, the then freshman made his first collegiate start against the St. Thomas Tommies, a team that would go all the way to the National Championship game that season. He would throw for 144 yards in that game, including a 70 yard touchdown strike, proving that he had what it took to succeed against the highest level of talent in the land.
Justice finished the 2015 season appearing in seven games and throwing for 1,011 yards and 7-TDs. It was a solid start to his career, but only an extremely small taste of what was to come.
Helping to Put Hamline Back on the Map
Entering the 2016 season, Justice Spriggs had established that he was going to be the starting quarterback for the Hamline University Pipers. His goal was to turn the football program back into a consistent winner, something that hadn’t been true seen since Bill Clinton was the President of the United States.
The team got off to a fast start, winning four of their first five games. It was truly a remarkable start, led by their star quarterback.
Justice threw for 333 yards and 3 touchdowns in an opening season victory over Crown College and, two weeks later, would throw for 475 yards and six TDs against Gustavus Adolphus. What was most impressive was it wasn’t just the big numbers of yardage and touchdowns he was producing, but also the fact that he was accurate with the ball as well, completing at least 65.6 percent of his passes in all three contests.
The Pipers finished the season 5-5, and it was Spriggs that was one of the leading reasons for the turnaround. He lead the MIAC in four categories, including passing yards (2,711), number of completions (233), and yards per attempt (7.4).
The season earned Justice a plethora of accolades, including being named to the All-MIAC team, one of only two sophomores to earn such honors, and he was twice named the MIAC Offensive Athlete of the Week. It was an incredible season, but one that was so satisfying for him because of how it affected the university as a whole.
“The first big thing that you noticed around the school was just the morale, the attitude changed. I know in past years the team was at the bottom of the conference, but last year we started getting better and better and started getting big wins. You could just see the confidence of the whole team boost and we realized that we could play with just about any team in this conference. You could see that whole attitude around the school.”
The Team Comes First
While excited about the success entering this season, what made last year so special was the comradery on the team. To Justice Spriggs, football is unique in comparison to any other sport, and that is a big reason why he loves playing it so much.
“In baseball and basketball there’s a lot of teamwork but there’s more of an individual aspect to it. On any given football play you need all 11 guys to do their job and to do it right. It’s just the comradery that football builds. Football is just a different sport and I’ve just grown to love it.”
The Hamline University Pipers football team is a close group. Head Coach Chip Taylor preaches a message of unity, and the team has embraced it fully, a key part of why the junior loves playing quarterback at the school.
“We have such a close knit team. We don’t have as many guys as some other teams in this conference or in the nation. We don’t have 150 or 200 guys. I think that works better for us. We have a pretty close knit group of guys, so we have guys that really get along well with each other.”
Embracing the Challenges
While Pipers football is definitely on the rise, the MIAC is arguably the toughest conference in all of Division-III football. There are four teams in the conference that are regularly ranked in the polls, making it hard for an up-and-coming team like Hamline to crack the top half of the conference. Some would be quite deterred, but it is only more motivation for Justice Spriggs.
“It’s good to be in a conference like this where you have two top 10 teams. That always pushes us. This league is very competitive so it is always a good measuring stick, and so this year we would like to push to be in the top half of the MIAC, to be in the top three or four. It’s always a good goal to have.”
Hamline is also one of the most rigorous academic institutions in the country, posing a special challenge for the biochemistry major who not only has long hours of practice, but also has to study playbooks like it is another class. Some would find that too overwhelming, but not only does Justice relish the challenge, he actually welcomed it.
“That’s one of the things that really drew me to Hamline. That when I came and talked with the professors before I was even a freshman I told them that I wanted to play football, but I also wanted to be a science major. They said that they’d worked with a lot of athletes and were able to meet outside of normal office hours, their able to help you with labs that may conflict with being at practices and stuff. The coaches are the same way. They always say academics first, football second. Those two working together, it’s a nice thing to have to not have to worry about classes conflicting with practices, because we all know that academics are more important.”
Looking to Return the Team to the Top
It was 1988. That was the last time that a Hamline University football team won the MIAC conference. With how impressive St. Thomas and St. John’s are as programs it is difficult to imagine that the Pipers will return to that lofty place, but don’t tell that to Justice Spriggs. This is one of the reason why he decided that Hamline was the place for him.
“We, as a team, want the ones that elevated Hamline back to the top of the conference. For years and years Hamline has been kind of a lower third team, and haven’t won a conference since 1988. I would like to think that we were part of that rebuilding process of bringing Hamline back to the top of the MIAC, to win championships again. That’s my goal.”
Some may think that the Hamline University quarterback is too much of a dreamer. To see the Pipers as MIAC champs is more of a pipe dream than a reality, but don’t count out Justice Spriggs turning that dream into truth. After all, every other time that someone put a barrier in his way, he simply overcame. Why shouldn’t anyone expect that to happen here as well?
By Robert Pannier