The College of the Canyons football team is in the business of helping players get to the next level, so it’s no surprise to see a bevy of former Cougars playing at Division I football programs.
The newest Cougar moving on to play Division I football is offensive lineman Justice Spates, who committed to the University of New Mexico on Monday.
The 6-foot-5, 260 pound left tackle received seven Division 1 FBS offers, including offers from Southern Miss, Kent State, Florida Atlantic and Tulsa, but landed with the Lobos thanks to a deep connection he built with the coaching staff and their straightforwardness.
“I felt more of a connection with this coaching staff, they were straight shooters. They didn’t BS anything and I like that,” Spates said. “They gave me my time to think and make my decision, go on a couple of visits and they were consistent throughout the whole process. They were one of my first offers, they really wanted me.”
The talented offensive lineman was a standout at Chaminade High School in West Hills and actually started his playing career on the defensive line.
When he first arrived at Canyons in the summer of 2017, he told head coach Ted Iacenda he wanted to play on the defensive line.
Iacenda had different plans for Spates, and he’s thankful he listened to his coach’s advice.
“When I got to COC I told coach I wanted to play d-line. He was like, ‘You can play d-line and get decent looks, but if you really want to go somewhere offensive line is where it’s at,’” Spates said. “I questioned it at first, I was nervous, I did not like offensive line at first, but coach (Spencer) Johnson and coach (Marc) Dumlao are the best o-line coaches I’ve ever been around and they made me love playing offensive line.”
During his senior year in high school, Spates took a helmet to the knee in the third game of the season against Valencia, suffering a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and hyperextended his knee. He didn’t play the rest of the season.
Spates grey-shirted when he arrived at Canyons, trying to regain his strength after suffering the devastating knee injury.
He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to play football again, but with the help of strength and conditioning coach Dan Corbet, his time and work in the weight room got him back to playing the game he loves.
“My grey shirt year here, rehabbing my injury, I was really questioning whether or not I would play football, and coach Corbet in the weight room he said, ‘You got to fight through that pain, you just got to lift through it,’” Spates recalled.
Spates worked his way back onto the field and was an integral part of the Cougars offense this season.
He was part of an offensive line that helped lead Canyons to 427.8 yards of total offense per game, which ranked No. 12 out of 68 teams in the California Community College Athletic Association.
The Cougars averaged 297.4 passing yards per game, which ranked seventh in the CCCAA.
He is quick moving across the line on counters and off tackle runs and is exceptional at pulling. His mobility and ability to move swiftly is a rare quality for players his size.
His strength and agility make him difficult to get around and he is deceptively fast. He explodes off the line of scrimmage, giving his quarterback and running backs plenty of time to set up plays.
Spates credits Dumlao, Johnson and the rest of the coaching staff in helping him maximize his potential both on and off the field and helping get him to where he is today: a Division I football player.
“Just the way I was coached, I wouldn’t say there is a coaching staff better than COC anywhere in the country because of how dedicated they are to the players,” he said. “I like people who are straight to the point, honest with you. I feel like I have a second family coming here, I can talk to these dudes about anything.
“I feel like coming to College of the Canyons gave me the opportunity to grow up, learn the game of football, and learn more about myself more than anything. On and off the field. The amount of relationships I made here, the study habits, it’s really crazy.”
Spates has a few more months in California before he will arrive in Albuquerque in June, joining two Canyons teammates at New Mexico, defensive backs Shaddrick Lowery Jr. and Antonio Hunt, who signed their national letters of intent in mid-December.
Linebacker Brandon Shook is also a former Cougar who currently plays at New Mexico.
“I met a lot of the offensive linemen and connected with them, we have similar personalities,” he said. “A few actually know some of my teammates from the team this year so that was cool.”
Spates said he is excited for the next chapter in his life and is ready to get to work and get better every day.
“Any challenge that comes my way, I’m going to take it in stride.”