THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Nelson Spruce laughs at the realization he’s just another one of those millennials who moved back in with his parents after college.
The Los Angeles Rams’ rookie receiver is simply taking advantage of convenient geography while he tries to get started in his dream career.
“It’s been like I’m back in high school,” Spruce said. “I wake up in the morning, say goodbye to my parents and drive over here. Go home, get home-cooked meals. It’s been kind of surreal.”
Spruce grew up in Westlake Village, California, a few minutes from the Rams’ brand-new headquarters in the far-flung LA suburbs. The complex is built on what was a quiet, unused corner of California Lutheran University’s campus when Spruce left his folks’ house for Colorado five years ago.
“They love having me home,” Spruce said. “Sometimes the tough part is I come over after a 12-hour day of football, and all they want to do is talk about more football, so I’ve kind of got to put up with that. But it’s awesome to be back home.”
Spruce already accomplished something remarkable by making the Rams’ 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent despite playing in just one preseason game due to a sprained knee. He’s used to exceeding expectations, too: The lightly recruited prospect became the most prolific receiver in Pac-12 history with the Buffaloes.
Spruce and fellow injured rookie receiver Pharoh Cooper practiced with the Rams (1-1) this week, and both should be ready to make their NFL debuts soon, perhaps even Sunday at Tampa Bay.
“How it affects the offense, I can’t tell you,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “They’re both rookies. They haven’t had a regular-season snap yet, but they both have promising futures and showed that they can make plays in the NFL early in the preseason.”
Two talented rookies could only help: The Rams’ offense was the league’s worst last season, and it has been the NFL’s worst again this season, failing to score a touchdown in the first two games.
Spruce sprained his knee in the preseason opener against Dallas, but only after making a team-best six catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. His effort included a highlight-reel catch over the middle.
The performance only confirmed what the Rams suspected about Spruce, who makes up for any perceived deficiencies in athletic ability with technique and tenacity. Los Angeles was sold enough on Spruce to keep him on the active roster with an injury that has kept him out for a month.
“It was a weight off my shoulders, just because I’ve worked for this opportunity my whole life, and then I (only) had that quarter and a half to really make my mark,” Spruce said. “To have that valuable time cut short by injury put a lot of stress on me, so once I got that good news, I felt like a new man.”
Spruce made Pac-12 history with 294 catches during four losing seasons at Colorado, breaking the league’s career record last Halloween at the Rose Bowl. Spruce’s average sprint times at the combine apparently dissuaded the league from drafting him, but the Rams — the only team to host him for a private pre-draft workout — won the competition for his services afterward.
Spruce had another strong connection with the Rams: Jared Goff and Spruce share representation, and they trained together for four months before the draft. Before training camp, they also spent dozens of hours throwing and catching in a small group of Rams at Westlake High School, Spruce’s alma mater.
Spruce was an all-league infielder and a .400 hitter at Westlake High before dropping the sport as a senior, and he partly credits his catching skills to the hand-eye coordination learned in baseball.
He hadn’t lived at home since the day after he graduated from high school, moving straight to Boulder after removing his cap and gown.
“It’s been really convenient not having to look for a place to live, not needing to get familiar with the area,” Spruce said. “It’s just taken that stress out of my life and helped me focus on what we’re doing here.”
A few indignities aside, Spruce is grateful to be back under his parents’ roof — rent-free, no less.
“They’re not charging,” he said with a laugh. “As long as I give them a couple of tickets every week.”