BY TEDDY RYDQUIST
Special to The Clarkston News
Rocco Spindler is balancing the duties of a high-level recruit with preparing for the final year of high school football
Spindler has developed into one of the most coveted recruits in the country, rated as a four-star prospect, the No. 2 guard in the 2021 class and the No. 3 player in the state of Michigan, per the 247Sports Composite.
Spindler, a two-way starter since 2017, experienced going to the state championship his freshman and sophomore years. Last year, Clarkston finished the season with an uncharacteristic 3-6 overall record, marking the first time the school had missed the Michigan High School Athletic Association postseason since 2002.
“We had some great guys on the team last year,” Spindler said. “We ran into some injuries, and after the injuries, we had a lot of young guys out there. Not making excuses, though, we always must be ready to play.”
Going into this year, he thinks the Wolves will have a very experienced, mature team.
“We suffered through a lot of losses, but a lot of young guys gained valuable experience,” Spindler said. “I’m really looking forward to this season. I think our offense is going to be stellar.”
This fall, there are plenty of reasons to have faith in Clarkston returning to form. In addition to Spindler, the team returns fellow seniors Justin Buchmann, an 2019 All-OAA Red wide receiver/tailback, Garrett Dellinger, the 247Sports Composite No. 12 offensive tackle, and tight end Blake Kosin, a Northern Illinois Huskies commit. Plus, junior quarterback Mike DePillo.
Many are projecting Spindler to play on the interior of the offensive line at the next level. Capable of playing defensive tackle in college if he desired, Spindler described how the decision to focus on offense materialized.
“Since I was young, I’ve always liked playing defense,” he began. “Looking up to guys like J.J. Watt, Aaron Donald, my father, Marc Spindler. On defense, you get a lot of attention and accolades, and you get to just go after guys.”
It was during his freshman year he realized he could do a lot of the same things on offense.
“A lot of coaches will notice and appreciate, if you’re knocking a guy ten yards off the line of scrimmage, that’s just as good as a sack,” he said.
Spindler shared an example from the second time Clarkston played Southfield Arts & Technology last year.
“I told Ethan Clark, our freshman running back, in overtime, ‘Hey, man, big players make plays in big games.’ We went for two for the win and had him run it in right behind me,” he said. “Launching a guy back a couple of yards just so he could get the couple of inches he needed for the end zone that’s what I like about offense. Offense is more brotherhood-like because you have to rely on each other.”
Having a father, Marc Spindler, with a similar background has been a great asset for Rocco throughout his own recruiting process.
“He’s gone through it,” Rocco said. “A lot of it is like what he went through, with some more modern techniques and salesmanship. He lets me do it a lot of it on my own, though. He comes in here and there to say what he has to say, but he’s letting me create my own path.
Rocco added his dad gives him great advice on what to look for in schools and how to enjoy the process.
“He always brings it back to staying humble, healthy and hungry, that’s where he comes in,” Rocco shared. “I believe he trusts me with the decision I’m going to make.”
Holding reported offers from nearly every national power, Rocco trimmed his list to five schools, May 22. Announced on his Twitter account, Louisiana State University, University of Michigan, University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio State University and Penn State University made the cut.
Each of these programs ended the 2019 season ranked in the Associated Press top-20, but Spindler, an above average student, is basing his decision on more than just the on-field product.
“Academics are the first thing,” he said. “I want to win a national championship in football, but I also want to win one in the classroom. It’s one of my top priorities.”
Originally, Rocco targeted a May 15 commitment date, allowing him to have the decision made well prior to the beginning of his senior season. The National College Athletic Association’s recruiting “dead period,” recently extended through July 31, caused those plans to change, however.
“It’s been crazy,” he said of the process. “Having this pandemic going on, I was hoping to be committed weeks ago, and this all broke out and I couldn’t take my official visits. So, there’s been some adversity, some brick walls, some challenges, and I just had to overcome those, Football has taught me so much, but overcoming adversity is one of the biggest things it has taught me.”
Rocco added everyone just has to get through this.
“I think taking my visits are the least of my worries right now,” he said. “As soon as we’re allowed back on-campus, I plan to take them and make my decision soon after that.”
The current NCAA restrictions in place since March, prohibit recruits from visiting campus and coaches from making off-campus visits.
Rocco has taken unofficial visits to all but one of his final five schools, however, with Baton Rouge the lone box unchecked. He had a visit planned for March, but it was cancelled because of the Coronavirus.
He visited Ann Arbor on multiple occasions, including last season for the Army Golden Knights game, September 7, and the rivalry clash with the Michigan State University, November 16.
“It’s unbelievable how well the coaches treat me over there,” Rocco said of Michigan.”Even if part of it is salesmanship, they truly seem to care about me, my family and everything I’ve gone through with this process. That’s what I look for. That brotherhood, the education they offer, how the football team develops their guys, it’s all what you look for. Ann Arbor definitely shows their love.”
Headlined by five-star quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who recently announced his transfer to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, the Wolverines’ 2021 recruiting class currently features 16 commits and is rated as the fifth-best group in the country, using the 247Sports Composite.
Adding Rocco and another OAA Red star, West Bloomfield’s four-star running back Donovan Edwards, could vault Michigan ahead of the North Carolina Tar Heels and into the No. 4 spot.
Recruiting Rocco has been a team effort for the Wolverine staff, as he has built strong relationships with several members of head coach Jim Harbaugh’s staff.
“The recruiting coordinator, Matt Dudek, he’s by far one of the best recruiting guys out there,” he shared. “I’ve established a great relationship with him. He’s my go-to guy. If I need to get in touch with a coach, or if I want to just talk to him. He can relay the message to the coaches if I’m busy or kind of just want to be a kid and push the recruiting stuff to the side for a bit.
He added Coach Ed Warinner has developed many first-round draft picks, a lot of NFL guys with him.
“He’s been great on and off the field,” Rocco said. “Coach Harbaugh is a great guy, he’s a family man, a father figure, really cares about his team.”
A member of Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State from 2012-16, Warinner joined the Michigan staff as the program’s offensive line coach in 2018. Exemplifying the whirlwind nature of major college football, Spindler has had one coach, Greg Mattison, serve as part of the recruiting pitch for both the Wolverines and Buckeyes.
Serving under Brady Hoke and Harbaugh from 2011-18, Mattison headed south to Columbus to become Ryan Day’s co-defensive coordinator in 2019.
“Coach Mattison was the first coach I ever talked to at Michigan,” Rocco shared. “He’s a great dude, he’s a like a grandpa. I love him. He’s just a great guy, and he really wanted me to go to Michigan when he was there.”
Rocco’s’s 247Sports “Crystal Ball” predictions at currently deadlocked at four apiece for Michigan and Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have the higher “Confidence Rating,” however, 7-4.
The Michigan Insider’s Sam Webb, considered by many to be the top source on Wolverine athletics, submitted his Crystal Ball for Michigan on July 27, 2019, and has his confidence level as a five.