“I really love this place and I’m really thankful to be here. I appreciate it so much more because I had a completely different life before.”
Just how different was Spencer Sheff’s life before transferring to Claremont McKenna College?
While other 18-year-old college first-years were out absorbing the social scene and testing the waters of their newfound freedom, Sheff was waking up at 4:30 a.m. to go on brutal runs, mop floors, and learn by trial-and-error how to use a gas mask.
He did so at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School, more commonly known as West Point.
It was not for lack of success that the now 20-year-old Sheff decided to leave – while taking seven classes, he made the Dean’s List and played in every football game, which is no small feat for a first-year.
“I learned a lot about myself and grew a lot as a person,” Sheff said. “I really went from being a procrastinator to handling my work … The workload is absolutely ridiculous. It really just changed me as a person, I’d say.”
But when he tore his ACL during football practice before his sophomore year, Sheff found himself in a difficult position: he could rehab his knee while continuing with his brutal Army schedule, or leave the school.
To the future benefit of the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps football team, he took an honorary discharge from the Army and headed home to Elk Grove, California.
“I liked it [at West Point] and I loved the people there, but I wasn’t very good at taking orders,” Sheff acknowledged. “The military life just wasn’t for me.”
Needing time to heal his knee and “decompress” from a year of studying and sleep deprivation, Sheff took a gap year.
From there, his next move was just a Google search away.
“I literally just Googled ‘best academic schools with a football team,’” Sheff said. “This place popped up, as well as Pomona and the Ivys.” A few email messages later, and he had a visit set up at CMC.
“We were lucky; Spencer actually contacted us,” CMS Football Head Coach Kyle Sweeney told TSL. “The nice thing for us was that it was a position of need, and he’s a great talent.” Sheff's talent was recognized from the start as a high school senior at the Division I level, when he drew offers from the Air Force, Ivy Leagues, and, of course, West Point.
Although Sheff says his biggest sports moment came playing in front of a full-capacity crowd of 106,000+ people at Penn State while with the Army, he is embracing the nuance of Division III.
“The team is the best guys I’ve ever met, honestly,” he said. “The game is still the same. Everyone up there [in DI] is a little bigger and a little faster, but the talent is still the same. They’re still ballers and they’re still great at football.”
Even with his background, Sheff will have to fight for a starting spot this year.
He shares the running back position with the Stags’ 2015 Offensive MVP Shane Pico CM ‘18, who is back on the field after missing the entire 2016 season due to injury. Additionally, Garrett Cheadle HM ‘20 and Christian Curcio CM ‘20 were successful in Pico’s absence last year, and will certainly be in the running for playing time as well.
“A new guy’s really got to earn it like anybody does,” Coach Sweeney said.
Keeping this all in mind, Sheff is excited about the simple joys of being a Claremont student, particularly riding a scooter to morning practice.
When asked if he’d like TSL to include anything else in this article, Sheff simply suggested: “Say how much I love it here. This is the place for me.”