Providence High first-year coach Justin Hardin had heard about a talented Panthers’ offensive lineman before he came to the school.
“I knew there was a special tackle here,” he said.
That special tackle is Bentley Spain, a 6-foot-6, 285-pound senior who is committed to play at North Carolina. He is ranked the No. 12 senior offensive tackle in the country and the No. 10 senior recruit in North Carolina by ESPN.
Spain, whose team plays archrival Ardrey Kell on Friday, was also named last week to the North Carolina roster for the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas.
It didn’t take long for Hardin to realize all he’d heard about Spain was true.
In the team’s second preseason scrimmage against Morganton Freedom, Hardin said Spain had six pancake blocks in the first eight plays.
“I looked at our O-line coach and said, ‘He’s the real deal,’” Hardin said. “He’s finishing his blocks 10 yards down the field, you know, and I couldn’t believe it. He’s the real deal. I knew we had something special in Bentley.”
Spain is one of 24 seniors on the Providence roster. Hardin called him a quiet leader on the team.
“I’m not really a huge vocal guy,” Spain said. “I just try to lead by example.”
Senior running back Hayden Taylor has known Spain since sixth grade and called him a typical “Southern guy” who likes to fish and play golf.
“He’s a really nice guy, like, he’s approachable,” Taylor said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a stud or a scrub, like he’s not a jerk to anyone, really.”
Spain also gives the rest of the team confidence, Taylor said.
“You look at him and you know he’s a guy that’s going to get the job done,” Taylor said.
Spain has been a big kid since he was young. He tried to play Pop Warner football in second grade but exceeded the weight limit “significantly,” he said. He ended up playing for Piedmont Youth Football – which has a higher weight limit – until his seventh grade year at South Charlotte Middle School.
And he has always played offensive line.
“I just enjoy how physical it is,” Spain said. “Especially working with four other guys so closely, you have real camaraderie, and it’s just fun.”
Spain has fundamentally sound technique to go with his size, Hardin said. What impresses Hardin most about Spain is the way he finishes blocks. The defender Spain is blocking is usually out of the play because he has been pushed 10 yards down the field.
“The thing you see every Friday night and every day at practice is he just finishes his blocks,” Hardin said. “That’s something you really can’t teach; you have to have that in you. That’s just got to be who you are, and that’s who Bentley is. He takes pride in finishing his block.”
Spain only played in one game his junior year. He hyperextended his left knee the first game of the season, causing a tibial plateau fracture. He would have returned in the second round of the playoffs, but Providence lost in the first round to East Forsyth 42-7.
“It was horrible,” Spain said. “Every game I’m just sitting on the sideline and can’t do anything. It was really rough.”
He had a quick rehabilitation period, working on his conditioning and strengthening his legs. Spain said the school’s spring practices helped him, as did participating in July’s The Opening in Oregon, Nike’s camp for some of the country’s top prospects.
He committed to the Tar Heels in July and was happy to get the decision out of the way. He will enroll early at North Carolina in the spring.
Spain wants to make the most out of his senior season after missing so much time on the field last year. He enjoyed an impressive 31-27 upset win over West Mecklenburg on homecoming night Oct. 4. West Meck came into the game ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press N.C. 4A media poll.
“There’s been some big wins here over the years, but I think this is probably the biggest win in a long time here,” Hardin said. “If anything, it gives our guys confidence that we can play with anyone.”
Spain thinks there can be more big wins for the 4-3 Panthers this season.
“We think we can win all of our games,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to try to do, and that’s my first priority, definitely.
“I’m going to try to just keep improving every day and come to work at practice every day.”
After serving two years as an assistant at Rock Hill South Pointe High, Hardin wanted to change the attitude of the Providence program when he took over as head coach. The team watches film before every practice to learn from its mistakes.
He also wants the Panthers to be more physical and has increased the amount of contact in practice.
Having a player like Spain in practice has helped the team improve.
“He makes us better. Not just the offensive line but everyone,” Hardin said. “He makes the guy beside him better, and I know our defense has gotten better because of Bentley Spain.”
Inscoe: 704-358-5923; Twitter: @CoreyInscoe This story originally appeared in South Charlotte News/newsofsouthcharlotte.com
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