College News & Analysis

Brevyn Spann-Ford stayed resilient. Now he is one of the best tight ends in college football

• Minnesota tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford sits down for an exclusive interview with PFF.

• One of the best tight ends in the country: Spann-Ford trails only Brock Bowers on our list of the top 10 tight ends in college football heading into 2023.

• Third time’s the charm: It took Spann-Ford three camps to earn a scholarship from his dream school, Minnesota.

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Brevyn Spann-Ford felt like a whole new man.

It was January of his junior year at St. Cloud Technical High School, and he had just picked up his first college football scholarship offer from Iowa State.

“After I got that, it did something to my confidence,” Spann-Ford said in an exclusive interview with PFF. “It felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. The game gets a lot easier, you get a lot more confident. I felt like maybe I could make a career out of this and go to the NFL.”

Even though the Cyclones were the first to offer him, Spann-Ford dreamt of playing in his home state.

“I grew up supporting the [Golden] Gophers,” the St. Cloud, Minnesota, native said. “As soon as I got invited to a gameday visit, I was like, ‘Man, this is where I want to be.’”

While Spann-Ford was all-in on Minnesota, it took a while for the Golden Gophers to feel the same about him. He went to multiple camps and left without offers. By the third camp, Minnesota offered. He committed on the spot.

That offer didn’t come without an intense meeting between his mother, Jacky, and Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck.

“My mother was more upset than I was,” Spann-Ford said with a laugh. “She got pretty heated in our meeting with Coach Fleck. We can just look back and joke about that now. She just wanted her son to get a scholarship offer. She was willing to put her foot down. It’s super funny thinking about it. She’s not big on what’s going on football-wise. She doesn’t care if I’m on the field or if I haven't touched the field. She just wants me to be happy. She’s always been supportive of me.”

Once Spann-Ford finally became a Golden Gopher, he met further resistance from then-redshirt sophomore and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Ko Kieft.

Was it true that Kieft called him soft during practices?

“Oh, 100%. 100%.”

It wasn’t until the 2021 season, Kieft’s final campaign at Minnesota, that finally earned Spann-Ford the respect of his fellow tight end.

“It was really me and him out there a lot,” Spann-Ford said. “We worked together to get through the season. Big Ten tight end play is no joke, it’s very physical. It’s common that there are two to three guys that are rotating all year. Playing that last season with him was what earned his approval. … I definitely wouldn’t be in this position without him and his leadership within this tight end room. I’m definitely thankful that I met him.”

Even if they’re great friends today, it’s almost inconceivable that there was ever a time when Spann-Ford was accused of being soft. This past season, the redshirt senior’s 82.5 run-blocking grade led all Power Five tight ends, while his 14 big-time blocks (PFF’s highest-graded blocks) were four more than any other tight end in the country. With his dominance in the run game at 6-foot-7 and 270 pounds, the Golden Gophers essentially have a third offensive tackle on the field when he’s out there.

“My physicality [is what separates me],” Spann-Ford said. “It’s a one-on-one battle. It’s you and the man in front of you. Bettering him on that play is what your focus should be.”

Spann-Ford is more than just a dominant run blocker. His 2.22 yards per route run in 2022 also ranked fourth among all tight ends in the nation. He’ll do anything if it’ll lead to victories.

“Just doing our job is what the tight end does,” he said. “Whether that’s catching a touchdown or pancaking a defensive end. That’s what we’re called upon to do. If you have a workhorse running back, you’re going to be blocking for him. Why wouldn’t you want to? If you have a quarterback with a golden arm, why wouldn’t you want to run routes for him? I’m willing to do whatever it takes for our team to win. I’m a competitor, and that’s how you have to be at this level.”

If you need more proof that Spann-Ford is more concerned with the team than himself, look no further than his favorite play of his career so far. It wasn’t one of his 42 catches that often led to highlight-reel hurdles, or even one of his signature pancake blocks.

“I wasn’t even on the field,” Spann-Ford said. “It’s a push-the-pile touchdown that Mohamed Ibrahim scored. It was such a statement play. It was one of the craziest push-the-pile moments I’ve ever seen. Mo just kept his feet running. I’d say that’s my favorite play just because of the mentality we want to bring as a team. This place is special to me, and it’s not like they do it anywhere else.”

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