The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have selected former Eastern Kentucky defensive end/outside linebacker Noah Spence with the No. 39 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Spence, a five-star recruit out of high school, joined Ohio State in 2012 but a series of off-field issues led to his eventual ban from the Big Ten, leading him to transfer to Eastern Kentucky at the FCS level.
Spence played in 12 games as a freshman at Ohio State and as a sophomore he put up 50 tackles and 7.5 sacks in 13 games. He was a first-team All-Big Ten player and also made Academic All-Big Ten.
But he was suspended for testing positive for the drug ecstasy. That suspension included the 2014 Orange Bowl and the first two games of 2014.
He claimed that the positive test was the result of somebody slipping it in his drink, which was believable enough given its reputation as a party drug. Spence, who was the very first Urban Meyer five-star recruit at Ohio State, was still on the team's good side and when he returned from suspension, he played hard.
But the second positive test, also for ecstasy, came in September 2014. He appealed the test, but his appeal was denied and he was permanently banned from the Big Ten. That was just a few days before the Buckeyes were set to face Wisconsin for the Big Ten title. His team went on to beat the Badgers, take down No. 1 Alabama and win the National Championship Game against the Oregon Ducks.
All without him. Spence claimed that he forced himself to watch the game in full, at home, and that he cried to see how low he had sunk.
"I had tears in my eyes," Spence said, via FOX Sports in October 2015. "I forced myself to watch it. The whole thing. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and I messed it all up."
Spence said in interviews that he started taking ecstasy because it was freely available at parties and that he felt it wasn't harming him because of his skill on the field and the fact that his academics did not suffer. But he knew he had a problem after the second suspension and attended a drug treatment program connected to the Ohio State hospital. He went there four nights a week for four hours each night in September and left the program near the end of October 2014.
"My biggest help was losing everything," Spence said. "After that was seeing that everyone stayed in my corner -- my parents, my coaches at Ohio State -- that was a big push to let me know that people were still in my corner even though I messed up."
Rather than enter the NFL Draft and become even more of a red flag than he was this offseason, Spence transferred to Eastern Kentucky and got right back to being a dominant player on the field. He had 63 tackles, 11.5 sacks and was the Ohio Valley Conference co-Defensive Player of the Year.
Spence was adamant that he wanted to undergo frequent drug testing with his new school because he knew was clean, and he was. Spence had an arrest for charges of alcohol intoxication and second-degree disorderly conduct for breaking a bottle trying to throw it in a trash can, but the incident has been expunged from his record.
He declared for the NFL Draft after his lone season with Eastern Kentucky and all of his highs and lows of college are out there for anyone to examine. Whether he will wind up being a character concern in the NFL is completely up to him at this stage, but his on-field talent cannot be denied.