Spencer Drango had an answer as quick as his athletic feet to the craziest question he’s heard leading up to the NFL draft.
“Would you share your internet history with me?” one team’s decision-maker asked Baylor’s 315-pound standout left tackle in preparation for this week’s draft.
“Yeah,” Drango told the guy. “I search a lot of food.”
If the Seahawks don’t care for his humor, they might like that he’s an All-American, one of six semifinalists for the Outland Trophy as college football’s best lineman and one of only two players to win the Big 12 Conference’s offensive lineman of the year award in consecutive seasons.
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Or that he is 6 feet 6 inches tall and started 48 career games for Baylor at left tackle, the position Russell Okung just vacated in Seattle for Denver in free agency. Or that Drango is reputed to have the quick mind and feet of an NFL guard. That’s another needy position for the Seahawks. Right guard J.R. Sweezy left for Tampa Bay in free agency last month, and Justin Britt struggled in his first year at left guard last season.
But there is much more to Drango than those possible fits for Seattle at No. 26 overall Thursday or with any of the three other picks the Seahawks have in the top 100 of this draft.
He’s bulled through dyslexia that initially vexed and held him back as a 10-year old — including on the football field.
“When I first started playing, brand new to football and didn’t know how to, I lined up,” he said. “They said, ‘Offensive linemen go here and linebackers go there,’ and I went with the linebackers. And I was clearly not a linebacker. It was things like that, and I had to learn the game.
“That was a little overwhelming at first, but once I learned the game, dyslexia hasn’t affected me.”
At all. He took special classes after school, met with teachers on Saturdays. Eventually, he overcame the disability that jumbles printed words and instructions in the mind and eyes.
“Remember Hooked on Phonics? That type of program,” he said. “Just like that, trying to relearn how to read and learn what learning techniques work for you. Because you never really grow out of it, but you can learn to cope with it.”
He did far more than merely cope. Drango became one of the nation’s most academically — and socially — accomplished college football players.
He spent hours each month at local schools and food banks around the Baylor campus in Waco, Texas. Last May, he spent two weeks in Brazil on a mission with the Baylor Sports Ministry international mission. The big lineman conducted sports clinics for children from favelas, the most disadvantaged parts of Brazil’s largest cities.
He graduated in December 2014 with a finance degree. This past winter he was one of 12 finalists for the Campbell Trophy given annually to the country’s best football scholar-athlete. Drango received an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship.
That pales to the money he’s about to get from the team that drafts him — but it’s worth more than just the $18,000 to him for the personal journey that scholarship represents.
“That was something entirely unexpected, really,” he said in February at the combine of the Campbell Award recognition plus a dinner in New York. “Some of the guys were like Rhodes-scholar finalists and 4.0 in chemistry and all of those things. So it was a real big honor just to be there and just be named as a finalist, to be in that class. It was an unbelievable experience and I was very fortunate and very blessed to be there for it.”
The son of Gary and Pamela Drango from Cedar Park, Texas, said of all the national and conference football honors he had while a four-year starter at Baylor, the academic awards mean more because of his reading disorder.
“It does. And it proves that hard work and dedication pays off,” he said. “Having dyslexia as a kid, no one ever thought — I definitely didn’t think — I would be in that position. I’ve been very fortunate and blessed with the people that have been in my life to help me out.
“My parents have done an amazing job raising me and they’re very supportive. They got me the classes that I needed to take to be able to overcome dyslexia. And once I got rolling and learned how to learn again, everything kind of clicked and it was just a bunch of hard work. It was really cool coming from that background to be in a place like that.”
Plus, as Drango noted almost as an aside, “Albert Einstein was dyslexic.”
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the Seahawks need offensive linemen in this draft. The line that allowed 31 sacks in the first seven games last season lost 40 percent of its starters in free agency. In March, Seattle signed low-cost, short-term free agents J’Marcus Webb and Bradley Sowell to compete for jobs at right tackle and guard, respectively. But they are not long-term fixes.
This draft is deep in talent, particularly along the line of scrimmage. So deep, general manager John Schneider told Seattle’s KJR-AM radio this month the Seahawks have 200 names on their draft board, about 70 more than in a normal year.
Since Schneider arrived with coach Pete Carroll to lead the Seahawks, they have drafted 12 offensive linemen in six years. Five of those 12 have come in the past two drafts, as former top picks Okung and James Carpenter exited in free agency and they traded center Max Unger.
Schneider and Carroll drafted nine of those dozen blockers in the third round or later. That includes four later-round picks that eventually started for the Seahawks: John Moffitt (third round, 2011), Sweezy (seventh round in 2012), Michael Bowie (seventh round, 2013) and Mark Glowinski (fourth round, 2015).
Later is where Washington State’s Joe Dahl is likely to go in this draft. WSU’s only invite to the combine, Dahl said he knows enough about the Seahawks to know they like lineman who can learn multiple positions.
And, yes, Dahl can learn. He learned two systems in college after transferring from Montana following a redshirt year in 2011. After standing upright to block in coach Mike Leach’s quick-step, pass-a-rama offense with the Cougars, the tackle smiled when asked about playing in the NFL’s three-point stance.
“I probably learned more plays the first day of the Senior Bowl (in January) than I did in my college career,” Dahl said.
“I’d probably say maybe once or twice a game (at WSU) we came out of a three-point stance and really came just straight downhill. We were more of a zone-type deal — a lot of blocks trying to get to the second level.”
Now, he and Drango are about to get to the next level, the top one of their game.
For Drango, it’s more than he could have imagined a dozen years ago, as that 10-year-old boy with dyslexia confused by which position to join for drills.
“Overcame it through a lot of hard work and dedication,” he said, proudly, “of not just me but people around me wanting me to succeed.”
Our top NFL draft prospects
The News Tribune’s Gregg Bell lists top offensive linemen and running backs, and also lists
possible Seahawks fits at each position.
By Gregg Bell
1. Laremy Tunsil, LT, Mississippi
Considered a sure thing at the most important line spot. May be first non-QB drafted, No.
by San Diego perhaps
2. Ronnie Stanley, T, Notre Dame
6-6, 312 and with athletic grace that defies his size. Started at both RT, LT for Irish. It’s
Tunsil-Stanley 1-2, then drop off
3. Jack Conklin, T, Michigan State
More meteor than Spartan: From walk-on to All-American and likely first-round pick
4. Taylor Decker, T, Ohio State
Strong and nasty – the way Seahawks line coach Tom Cable likes ‘em
5. Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
Rimington Award as nation’s top center last season likely to go in first round, too
Possible Seahawks fits:
Decker: That is, if they goes OL first round. Something tells me they won’t, that
Seahawks will seek later-round bulk picks and value for Cable to develop.
Joshua Garnett, G, Stanford: Puyallup native and Outland Trophy winner from
Puyallup says it would be a “dream come true” for Seattle to draft him. Would he be
there in round two?
1. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
May be only RB taken in first round. Only three years in college but he’s the cream –
likely top 10 if not top 5
2. Derrick Henry, Alabama
Heisman Trophy winner is a runaway Mack truck: 6-3 and 247, with no brakes
3. Devontae Booker, Utah
Knock is his lack of speed but produced: 1,200 yards with 11 TDs last year
4. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
Some scouts love how good a pass catcher he is, making him NFL-ready option in third
5. C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame
Faster 40 (4.48) than expected at combine. Fumbled a lot in college.
Possible Seahawks fits:
Alex Collins, Arkansas: Bullish at 5-9, 217. Runs dudes over like other Seahawks backs
you may remember. Joined Herschel Walker, Darren McFadden as only SEC players
with 3 straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. But: 16 fumbles in three seasons
Tre Madden, USC: Missed two full seasons to injury, then knee this past December. But
if any NFL coach knows the inside scoop on what this tall (6-1) former Trojans
linebacker can do for a late-round option, it’s Pete Carroll