WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Although he can barely feel his fingers inside his winter gloves, Chris Spegal keeps doing what he has always done when his son Charlie carries the football. He removes a red pen and a scrap of paper from his coat on this frigid, blustery November Friday night and proceeds to write down how many yards Charlie gains on each of his carries.
Nine on his first carry. Nine more on his second. Another 15 on his third. Handwarmers and blankets are passed around the bleachers, as Chris continues to scribble away. The task has not been easy this year, given Charlie's historic junior season—a campaign that saw him score 70 total touchdowns and rush for more than 3,300 yards. Tonight, as New Palestine takes on Harrison High School in the Class 5A Indiana high school playoffs, is no different.
"I'm usually off by maybe three or four yards," Chris says of his game-day ritual. Charlie carries the ball four more times on the first drive, capping off the opening possession with a one-yard touchdown—his 62nd of the season.
It draws only mild applause from the New Palestine fans who made the hour and 40-minute trek to watch their team, largely because this is what they’ve grown to expect from their star player.
"Took a little longer than usual," Joe Spegal, Charlie's grandfather, says to Chris after Charlie's touchdown run.
At 5'10" and 225 pounds, Charlie is not a prototypical running back. In fact, by designation, he is not a running back at all. Charlie is listed as a fullback, a position that is extinct in some places and endangered in plenty more. Slowly but surely, given the increasing emphasis on passing across all levels of the sport, the fullback is being eliminated.
But Charlie isn't a typical fullback. For starters, he is the team's primary offensive weapon and one of the most productive offensive players in the country. He also runs a 4.6 40-yard dash that complements a 575-pound squat and a 420-pound bench press.
He is an athlete, albeit a different kind of athlete. Rather than run around or past you, Charlie would prefer to run through you.
"As soon as he gets into open field, you're gonna have a rough day," New Palestine senior quarterback Zach Neligh says. "If you go into his highlights, you'll see six different open holes, and he'll go right to the one with the backer in it. He's looking for him."
Charlie rushes for 275 yards and scores three more touchdowns against Harrison—breaking the Indiana state record of 61 rushing touchdowns in a single season while pushing New Palestine to the next round of the playoffs.
Over the next two weeks, Charlie scores five more touchdowns while guiding New Palestine to a 5A title and an unblemished season. According to MaxPreps, Spegal finished with 3,356 rushing yards (second in the nation), scored 70 touchdowns (first in the nation) and didn't lose a single fumble.
But despite the gaudy, historic numbers, Charlie is not the talk of the national recruiting scene. Power programs are not lining up to woo him. While he is not being ignored, he still doesn't have a single scholarship offer at a time when many players in his class already have several.
"I've been hoping for it, but I just can't figure out what it is," Charlie says. "This is motivating me to work even harder."
At the moment, Charlie's recruiting profile on 247Sports is mostly a blank page. He doesn’t have a single star attached to his name. He isn't even ranked among the top 10 players in Indiana in the class of 2020.
"If we're standing here in 1988, or 1998, he's probably one of the top recruits in the country," New Palestine head coach Kyle Ralph says. "He would've probably been one of the most sought-after kids in America. But the game has changed, and apparently what people are looking for has changed."
Despite his season, attention has been slow to follow. Those who have watched him closely over the past year know what they just witnessed. "It was almost like watching someone play Madden on easy mode," says Brian Heinemann, who covered Spegal and New Palestine for the Greenfield Daily Reporter.
As historic as his 70-touchdown season was, it did not emerge out of thin air. The junior transferred from Delta High School before this past season, having played against New Palestine and his current teammates the previous year.
As a freshman at Delta, Charlie ran for 1,958 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. His sophomore year, he totaled 2,385 rushing yards and 33 scores.
"He's definitely the most physical runner I've ever seen," senior New Palestine lineman Alex Cotterman says. "He absolutely loves contact. As physically as he runs, he doesn't fumble, and he can catch the ball. I don't understand how he hasn't been recruited more."
His statistics from this past season could've been even better. Charlie didn’t appear in roughly half of his team's fourth quarters this season because the score was so lopsided. He often didn't log a single carry in the second half.
In the first game of the season against Kokomo High School, the 5A state runner-up from the prior season, Charlie ran for 222 yards and seven touchdowns in the first two quarters. He didn't play another snap in the 77-0 blowout.
Charlie scored six or more touchdowns in seven of New Palestine's 14 games. He ran for more than 200 yards in 10—averaging more than 10 yards per carry. Playing against Delta in October, his former team, Charlie ran for 387 yards and seven touchdowns on only 16 carries.
"In the instances when he maybe had only 150 yards and three touchdowns at half, it almost felt like something was wrong," Chris says about his son. "And then you think about that for a minute and question yourself for thinking such a thing. It was that kind of special year."
So far, however, only Ball State, Cincinnati and Eastern Michigan have invited Charlie to attend a game. In recent weeks, Northern Illinois paid a visit. Army and Navy, who both still rely on fullbacks (or dive backs) in their option offenses, have also shown interest.
So to jump-start the recruiting process, Charlie has assembled a highlight reel from his junior season. Because he scored so many touchdowns, his initial version of the video was more than 12 minutes long. With his coach's guidance, they trimmed down the video.
The highlight begins with one of his most impressive runs—a pinball-like gallop against Decatur Central in the state championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Although more than half of the defensive players on the field manage to get a hand on Charlie, he scores.
"He's not your prototypical style or look for a tailback or a running back," Ralph says. "He's a ball-carrier. That's what he does."
These are not Reggie Bush's high school highlights reimagined. Charlie does not have the dazzling speed coveted by programs around the country. This is something different—something that feels as though it's from a different era. It is straightforward, deliberate and wildly successful.
Charlie doesn't see it that way, nor was it the blueprint he followed growing up. "I really idolized Adrian Peterson," he says. "I like how hard it is to bring him down and how easily he breaks a lot of tackles. But yes, I have always enjoyed contact."
At the moment, Charlie is doing everything he can to convince college coaches that his style will fit whatever offense they might run. Since the season ended in November, he has spent time working out in the weight room and sending out video highlights to coaching staffs around the country.
He doesn't have a dream school in mind; he likes the cold and the thought of being able to play in the Midwest close to his roots. He's simply hoping that by the time his signing day comes a year from now, he will have more options.
His email to college coaches reads like this:
"My name is Charlie Spegal from New Palestine High School in New Palestine, IN. I am a running back on the varsity football team. I graduate in 2020. I was named ALL STATE in 2017 and TOP 22 underclass in Indiana. My junior stats are 3356 yards, (10.6 yards per carry) and 70 TOUCHDOWNS. My Team was undefeated and won the 5A state championship.
I have a great work ethic in sports and in the classroom. I am very goal-oriented and do my best to reach my goals.
As a student at New Palestine I have a 3.36 GPA and I am scheduled to take the ACT in December.
I am very interested in a business degree from your University.
If given the opportunity I know I can be a tremendous asset to the football program. Please check out my HUDL Highlights and personal information below.
Thank you very much for your time and I look forward to hearing back from you soon.”
In the past few weeks, the inquiries have started to come in. Teams aren't yet ready to fully commit, but they are curious.
"I think a lot of it is people trying to figure out what he is," Ralph says of his back. "Is he someone who's going to fit well in their system? You're going to get what you get from him. You're going to get a back with great vision, great bursts and great power."
"And 70 touchdowns," Ralph adds. "You don't do that unless you're a great player."
If he stays healthy, Charlie should break the all-time Indiana high school rushing record of 8,110 yards in the first few weeks of next season, a reminder that he has another year to create an impression and provide an encore to one of the most productive offensive seasons in high school history.
Before then, teams and coaches will undoubtedly flock to New Palestine to see the player who scored 70 touchdowns.
How could they not?