Spencer Webb's story was short, but he made sure to share it
The Oregon tight end died on Wednesday at the age of 22.
A few days after the biggest play of Spencer Webb’s career, the then redshirt-freshman’s “Mossing” of an Auburn defensive back was still being shared all over the internet.
It made sense: Webb was on the receiving end of one of the best throws of Justin Herbert’s college career, the fourth option for a quarterback on the run looking for a prayer. The ball sailed 30 yards on a line and Webb, who had just started practicing with Oregon’s receivers a week earlier, high-pointed the ball, brought it down for the score and then stepped over his defender to get to his teammates.
It was Webb’s first career touchdown and also his first time going viral. And even though a few days had passed and the Ducks had shifted their focus toward Nevada, Webb couldn’t stop smiling about that play.
“I heard the crowd screaming as Justin was running,” Webb recalled the next week after practice. “Then all I saw was his arm. The ball was up and it took me back to my high school days and jump balls. I just snagged it out of the air and celebrated with my teammates.”
Webb died on Wednesday in an accident at Triangle Lake. He was 22 years old. And while it feels trivial to reflect on the sports career of a young man taken too soon, my mind immediately went to that play from 2019. Not because of Webb’s athleticism, not because of the #Moss and #Iverson hashtags being thrown onto the replay, but because of how happy it made Webb knowing that people from Sacramento saw it.
“All of my hometown blew up,” Webb said. “I come from a small town where not that many people make it out, so that was the best part to me. All of (the notoriety) was cool, but family is the most important to me.”
Webb didn’t have an easy path to Oregon. His parents were in and out of his life, his older brother Cody served as his legal guardian and Webb relied on relationships with coaches and teammates to push himself for a shot at a different future. He redshirted his first year in Eugene and bulked his 6-foot-6 frame up to 250 pounds. But when the Ducks opened up fall camp 2019 with multiple injuries at receiver, Webb moved positions and tried to slim down as he adjusted to a new role. In the days leading up to Auburn, he let some family and friends know they might catch him on TV.
Then he was everywhere.
“Spencer Webb, we didn’t expect him to be playing in the first game,” Herbert said after the game. “But he made a huge play and he’s a guy I really trust.”
Webb became one of Oregon’s most popular players after that play. He’d score another touchdown later that year against Washington. He was carried off the field by fans after another. It became common to see him rocking an Oregon hockey jersey around campus — or on YouTube. He loved being an Oregon football player and he grew to love the responsibility of sharing his story.
“When I was in high school I had an article (written) about my childhood (upbringing). And it killed me,” Webb wrote in a message shared by former Oregon softball player Haley Cruse Mitchell. “But I talked to my coach, and he said, ‘You never know what impact you might have on a kid or anybody else in the world who loves you.’”
A lot of people loved Webb. It’s been an outpouring from teammates and coaches over the last 12 hours.
He loved them back. It was all there in that play.
“All my teammates kept saying, ‘Your time is coming. Your time is coming. Your time is coming,’” Webb said. “And turning back and seeing them all smiling and stuff, it was awesome.”
— Tyson Alger
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