Pittsburgh Steelers’ backup linebacker Robert Spillane has worked his way into fans’ hearts in recent weeks by making a couple of big plays playing in place of injured starter Devin Bush.
First, Spillane made a goalline stop on Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry two weeks ago. Last week it was a pick-six against Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Robert Spillane, I SALUTE you. If people didn't know who you were before this play, they will after this. I promise you, you will see this play ALL WEEK! pic.twitter.com/koZzfUsvFo
— Charlie Batch (@CharlieBatch16) October 25, 2020
While Steelers fans are just discovering the previously-unknown Spillane, in Morgantown, he has always had at least one fan cheering for him. Before he was in the NFL and before he was an All-Conference player at Western Michigan, Spillane was a standout senior at Fenwick High School in Oak Hills, Illinois. Watching him at the time was current West Virginia tight end Mike O’Laughlin, an eighth-grader at the time.
“When I was an eighth-grader I used to go to all of the high school games,” O’Laughlin said. “He was a senior and his cousin, Ryan Smith was a tight end at Fenwick and went on to play at Miami of Ohio. So I watched those guys when I was really young and they gave me that inspiration to work hard and make it to the next level.”
Spillane went on to be a four-year starter at Western Michigan, where he 312 total tackles, 32.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions from 2014-17. He was undrafted out of college and spent time with the Titans and Steelers in 2018 and 2019 before getting substantial playing time this season. O’Laughlin said it is exciting for him to watch Spillane play in the NFL.
“Seeing Spillane do that – he had a pick-six against Lamar [Jackson] – just being able to watch him on TV wearing his grandfather’s number.”
Spillane’s grandfather, Johnny Lattner also played at Fenwick before moving on to Notre Dame, where he won the 1953 Heisman Trophy.
“His grandfather was Johnny Lattner and his Heisman trophy is at our high school displayed,” O’Laughlin said. “There’s a lot of history there and I’ve been in contact with him a little bit and he’s been a great help giving me tips and stuff getting through college and just trying to become a better football player.”
Like Spillane, O’Laughlin is experiencing a successful season as well. The redshirt-sophomore has 115 receiving yards on 10 receptions through six games.