NEW CANAAN — Quick quiz: Who was the first graduate of the New Canaan football program to arrive at the NFL Combine in February.
If you consider — to mix metaphors — that a lob ball, the answer is not Zach Allen.
No, at half a foot shorter and less considerable weight, the non obvious answer is Natalie Spruck, who last week joined Allen in the NFL, though with an asterisk. That may be removed by this time next year, when the TCU senior will hopefully be arriving with Lucas Niang, the player indirectly responsible for her current situation.
For the past three years Spruck has been part of the school’s video operations crew, filming football practices and games. Last week she started an internship with the NFL in its football operations department, on initiatives that include safety in youth football and retired player benefits.
Surreal is an oft-used word in Spruck’s vocabulary.
“I would have never guessed during my college years I would be interning with the NFL,” Spruck said. “I would have laughed.”
Spruck’s path has been a series of successfully taken crossroads. At each stop, her personality, intelligence and the advocacy of a large fan base has helped get her to the next stop.
I wrote about Spruck three years ago, in what remains one of the most-read stories ever on the site.
Spruck was cut during volleyball tryouts as a junior at New Canaan. Spruck knew that the football team needed managers and sought out its coach, Lou Marinelli. Soon she was entrusted to film practices.
Spruck as a senior was wait-listed by TCU. While the school was on the New Canaan campus recruiting Niang, an offensive tackle, Marinelli saw an opportunity for two members of the program. Spruck with no advance notice met with Rusty Burns, a former UConn assistant at TCU. She made a strong impression, and Burns connected her with Mike Maples, the video coordinator for the athletic department.
Goodbye wait list, hello acceptance.
Spruck has been part of the six-person team that films for the football program. She said it consumes about 25-30 hours a week, with Friday travel for road games. This year she will be the lone female on the crew and the only one not from Texas. She films the defense, during games high up on a tower getting tight shots of the defense, as she said, “edge rusher to edge rusher.”
A communications major, Spruck interned for an event planner after her freshman year and last year with the director of recruiting at TCU, specifically helping with official visits.
“I got exposure to a little about operations but it was really like event planning in a sense,” Spruck said.
In November she applied for internships with the NFL in four of five departments. Before she departed with TCU for the Cheez-It Bowl in Arizona, the league invited her to apply for a closed event at the Combine, called the “Women’s Careers In Football Forum.”
Only 40 females get accepted. Spruck was one.
“They tell you what a day in the life of someone in operations would be,” Spruck said. “I thought I’d like to do this. I was sitting in that meeting and saying this is so what I want to do. There was a woman with the Rams and a man with the Bucs. I didn’t even know in high school that this existed. I went to a few other breakout sessions. One was for player personnel and one was for data and analytics.”
Not long after Spruck was walking on the TCU campus before classes and learned that she was accepted for an NFL internship. Ironically the first person she ran into was Niang.
“Obviously if you want to work in football you want to work in the NFL,” Spruck said. “That’s always been a goal of mine. I didn’t think I’d end up interning for them because it has always been a dream. I know how competitive the program is so when I got the acceptance I was so beyond happy. It was surreal.”
She has only been with the NFL now for two weeks, enough time Spruck said to see a future home if her completion percentage on crossroads remains perfect.
“I think the department where I’m in is where I should be,” Spruck said. “It fits my personality. They have a lot of moving pieces and I feel that I work well with that, especially coming from college football and high school football. Specifically working with high school and Coach Marinelli. There are so many things going on.”
Spruck said she gets to spend time with Niang and Michael Collins, the third member of her class at TCU, who transferred from Penn after his freshman year and was the starting quarterback at midseason last year before suffering a season-ending injury.
It is every top player’s dream to get to the NFL. It is also the goal for a number of females, and Spruck is on the precipice of living it.
“Isn’t it crazy in a matter of four years?” Spruck said. “It’s insane. It’s insane. It’s surreal. I really am so grateful because without Coach Marinelli willing to let me try it out for a few weeks, and then end up loving it and sticking with it, he helped out so much in the college process and finding me a home at TCU. He’s helped so much. I never thought this would happen. Now, I’m really excited about the initiatives I am working on. Everyone is so nice, so cool, so I’m really enjoying it so far.”