When Spencer Drango read words, the letters were mixed up. Jumbled. "R-E-A-D" would resemble "R-A-E-D." By fifth grade, he realized he had dyslexia.
So he put in the time. He fought it.
Drango took extra classes before school, after school, even during school to combat the learning disorder. Now, here he is, on the cusp of the NFL Draft. The mammoth 6-foot-6, 315-pound guard from Baylor projects as a mid-round pick. He has spoken with the Buffalo Bills at the Senior Bowl and NFL scouting combine, too. A year ago the consensus All-American allowed zero sacks, three pressures and one knockdown.
He never got discouraged at a young age. Instead, he found a way.
"Anybody can do it," Drango said. "It just takes a lot of perseverance and dedication. You can’t ever give up even when you don’t understand something — you have to try to find a different way to learn it."
Of course, football was initially overwhelming. The first time Drango played for a team in seventh grade, the rules, the plays, the assignments, the physical demands "was a lot to take in," he admitted. So coaches sported him with a quarterback band that detailed his specific job on all 20-some plays the offense ran.
Who to block. How to block. Where to look. Man-to-man. Zone blocking. It was all there for him on his wrist.
And that repetition stuck in his mind. From there, Drango expanded his technique.
Dyslexia is a cognitive disorder, not an intelligence issue. All of those extra hours of classes — in addition to summer school — paid off. Drango was a straight "A" student through high school, who caught plenty of grief from Dad for any "B-plus" that'd creep into a report card, even if it was Calculus. On to Baylor, he finished with a 3.71 GPA in his Finance major and he currently holds a 3.98 GPA halfway through his graduate degree.
On a page before, letters would look mixed up and, sometimes, Drango would add extra words into a sentence. But gradually, he learned to cope.
The past few months, many NFL teams have asked Drango how much dyslexia affects him today. His answer? Not at all.
"It’s become second nature to do everything I’ve taught myself and been taught," he said.
And on the field, he matured into a mauling presence known for drilling his defender into the ground every chance he could in the Big 12. He's powerful. Drango's 30 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press were fifth-best among all offensive linemen. A four-year starter, he was effective pulling in space in the run game and keeping his quarterback clean in the passing game because, as he says, "my job is not to let the quarterback get hit."
By now, he's figured out ways to learn on his terms. When he sees a play on the board, he'll write down the X's and O's, rewrite it, "it clicks," then he applies that assignment to the field.
He has his own system.
"I rely a lot on technique and use my intelligence," he said. "I try to pick up on little things the defenders are doing—whether that’s changing alignment in certain situations or a different hand is down or the linebacker’s in a different spot—I try to pick up on that. Not anticipate but it’s a warning sign to be on your toes.”
Now, everything will be much, much faster in the NFL. His learning will be put to the test. Drango is confident he'll keep up.
“There are some things I can grasp quite easily and other things I can’t," said Drango, whose father actually grew up in Buffalo and still has friends in the area. "Those things I can’t grasp, I have to keep working at it until I do. Once I understand the concept, I get it. ... If I can’t get it one way, I have to try something different to get it the other way."
The 10 best offensive linemen in the draft...
1. T Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss (6 foot 5, 310 pounds): Arguably the best prospect in the entire draft, Tunsil possesses elite quickness for a man his size, shuts down pass rushers one on one and gets to the second level in the run game.
2. T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame (6-6, 312): Decided to return to school after stellar 2014 season, improve his game and did exactly that; flexible enough to take on top-tier edge rushers.
3. T Taylor Decker, Ohio State (6-7, 310): Known as the leader of the Ohio State offensive line, scouts love Decker's intangibles and basketball background evident in his balance, body control.
4. T Jack Conklin, Michigan State (6-6, 308): Controlled the best front-seven player in this draft, Oregon's DeForest Buckner, no easy task.
5. C Ryan Kelly, Alabama (6-4, 311): Took over for Barrett Jones and Crimson Tide offensive machine didn't miss a beat in his three years as a starter.
6. T Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech (6-5, 316): An All-Big 12 selection in all three years starting at left tackle, Clark has the frame (36 1/8-inch arms) to be a blind-side protector in the NFL.
7. T Shon Coleman, Auburn (6-5, 307): Overcame acute lymphoblastic leukemia, redshirted for a year, stepped in to replace former No. 2 overall pick, Greg Robinson.
8. T Jason Spriggs, Indiana (6-6, 301): Athletic (35-inch vertical) with speed for a big man (4.94 in the 40), Spriggs just needs to play with more strength.
9. G Cody Whitehair, Kansas State (6-4, 301): First team All-Big selection is a very safe first- or second-round pick for a team needing a rock inside.
10. G Joshua Garnett, Stanford (6-4, 312): Won the Outland Trophy as the nation's top interior lineman behind smarts and a mean streak --- Garnett excelled vs. UCLA first-round prospect Kenny Clark.