From 2001-04, University of New Mexico football fans saw linebacker Nick Speegle, No. 89, bash rushers and receivers while earning All-Academic Mountain West Conference honors each season. The La Cueva grad was captain for Rocky Long’s squad in 2004 that played in the Emerald Bowl.
Speegle might have been the most overjoyed Lobo on the field his senior year on the night UNM upset visiting Texas Tech, 27-24, a game that came two years after the Red Raiders had battered his Lobos 49-0 on national TV.
These days, Speegle still finds his way to University Stadium for games, but as a spectator who also answers to Dr. Speegle.
In what amounted to a jarring career about-face stemming from a personal injury, he is a chiropractic sports physician in Albuquerque. Among his clients are UNM coaches Bob Davie and Craig Neal. Speegle has also worked with Olympic athletes such as Courtney Frerichs, who won the NCAA steeplechase title last spring as a Lobo, and Jarrin Solomon, a La Cueva and UNM alum and 2012 bronze medalist sprinter for Trinidad and Tabago.
“I wouldn’t have made the starting line without him,” Frerichs wrote in an email.
Early on, Speegle’s college football career might not have gotten to the starting line if not for former UNM defensive coordinator and current Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall, who Speegle calls “one of the most influential men in my life.”
“Nick was a particular favorite of mine, just because of his sincerity and his desire to improve,” Mendenhall told the Journal this week. “He was just really genuine about his ability, about his desire to be the best he could be in every area of his life.”
It was like at first sight for Mendenhall.
“I went to a La Cueva high school game and I saw a really tall, really skinny player that was trying really hard,” Mendenhall said. “I remember his rear end didn’t even fill out the back of his football pants and he had a lot of extra ‘bagginess’ hanging down at the bottom of his rear end, but he was trying so hard and he ran really well and he wasn’t afraid. He was physical and he tried really hard the entire game.
“I left that game and I came back and reported to coach Long and the staff that regardless of who else wanted him, I thought he would be a really good football player, not only for us but in the future.”
Quite a trip
Since then it’s been a wild ride to this place in life for Speegle, 34, who put out his shingle in August 2015 after working briefly for doctors in Dallas and Albuquerque. On the family side, he and wife Jamie are raising boys Cannon, 21 months, and Dodger, 5 months.
Being in this profession wasn’t in his master plan. It wasn’t Plan B, either.
“No, not even close,” he said from his office on Academy Road NE one recent afternoon.
Leaving college, Plan A was playing pro football. During the 2005 spring draft, he said his cellphone was fully charged and glued to his side. But for the longest time, it didn’t make a peep.
“I was expecting to go anywhere from the fifth round through free agency,” he said. “At the end of the fifth round, though, I started to see some linebackers go that I thought I was a better player than. I was a little discouraged.”
But, voila! Speegle’s phone rang. And rang again. After receiving a check-in call from Green Bay, he soon was on the phone with Cleveland Browns head coach Romeo Crennel.
“I was in the other room with him and my family was in the living room, and then I kind of hear this screaming and cheering and yelling. I knew at this point they had picked me.” It was in the sixth round.
The big time
Thanks to a solid summer camp, he made the opening-day roster of the 2005 Browns. But every step of the way was “pins and needles,” he said.
“You’re a late-round draft pick, so nothing’s for sure. But I had a few sacks (in exhibition games) … one time I came unblocked off the edge against the Lions and tackled their running back in the backfield. So, little things like that helped me stand out.”
Game 2 of the regular season was the highlight for Speegle. He made two tackles at linebacker and two on special teams as touchdown-underdog Cleveland beat the Packers 26-24.
A few days later, the bottom pretty much fell out when he injured his back working out. But in the long term, it might have been a blessing of sorts.
“Back then it was devastating,” he said. “This was your professional career you dreamed about your whole life. And there are a lot of what-ifs, but it’s one of the reasons for me to be here doing what I love now.”
He finished the season, missing only two games (“I know how to hide pain”), but the next spring the Browns drafted three linebackers, making his pro future cloudy. He said he was following that draft closely, too.
“Yeah, big-time,” he said. “At that point you go, ‘So maybe they’re not looking to me to be the future.'”
That summer of 2006, he was released on the final cut-down day and later had one-day tryouts with the Jets, Chiefs, 49ers and Steelers, before briefly joining the San Diego Chargers. He eventually was re-signed by the Browns for the final two games of the season.
But that was the end of pro ball for Speegle and his aching back. After having surgery the next spring, he was finally pain-free, but told himself pro ball wasn’t worth it anymore.
“Plan B was to get a job doing something,” he said. “I had a business degree and had a lot of connections here in Albuquerque.”
He took a job as a purchasing manager with a construction company that also employed his father Doug. But it wasn’t long before Speegle got the itch to return to football, and he became a graduate assistant coach on Long’s staff.
“That was in 2008,” he said. But after Long resigned, Speegle tossed aside his whistle without regrets, knowing that the job was too time-consuming and would take away from his family life.
So that move sent Speegle back to the job-search drawing board.
“You’re lost when you’re done playing initially, and then you get some jobs to try to figure out life and then at that point when I was done with being a GA, I didn’t really know where I was going to go in my life. So I began to do some soul-searching.
“I said I didn’t want to bounce around from job to job. I want to help people. I thought about chiropractic. I thought about my chiropractors and how they helped me, and that’s when I started to research little bit about what it takes to become a chiropractor.”
A lot, it turns out.
Back to school
After taking prerequisite courses in the sciences at Central New Mexico and UNM, he enrolled at Parker College Chiropractic in Dallas, the closest of “only about 20 schools, maybe 18” in the U.S. He graduated in December 2013.
Since going out on his own two Augusts ago, business has been bustling.
“Because I practice a little different, I treat a lot of injuries,” Speegle said. “I might be working on knees. I might be doing the dry needling. I might be doing a myofascial work with my thumb. All stuff to treat sports injuries.”
In his down time, he attends Lobo games with his wife and boys and still feels the hurt from each defeat. He said he was grumpier than usual the day after the Lobos’ 49-21 loss to Boise State.
And since he remains a Browns fan, he is grumpy most Mondays, too.
But still having a piece of his heart in Cleveland, maybe he can find joy in the fact the Cavaliers recently won the NBA title.