Jeff Sprayberry looking to have big year for Oak Forest

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Oak Forest senior Jeff Sprayberry has turned into one of the Southland’s big hitters, but he’s not delivering the type of blows that his family has come to expect.

“I played linebacker until my sophomore year,” Sprayberry said. “All my family is really into football and two of my older brothers got full rides to play Division II football. I think my brothers were looking forward to me following in their footsteps.”

Sprayberry, the youngest of five, will compete at the next level, though it won’t be on the gridiron. When he decided to put down the cleats, his intent was to focus on volleyball year round. The choice is paying dividends.

Sprayberry committed to King University in Bristol, Tenn., after impressing head coach Ryan Booher with his club-league play during the summer.

“Traveling to different states and playing different teams from around the country is when my game really started pulling up,” Sprayberry said of competing with Chicago Volleyball Club.

In addition to his scholarship, the experience helped pave the way for other accolades. The 6-foot-4 outside hitter is one of 141 players from around the country nominated on the All-America Watch List by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, which will name 20 seniors as All-Americans in May.

Sprayberry should also be a frontrunner — along with Richards’ Ed Karalius — for the South Suburban Player of the Year award. He was the only junior nominated for the honor last season.

“He’s the best volleyball player that I’ve coached in my time,” Oak Forest coach Lee Rucinski said. “I’m still young — I’ve only been doing this for seven or eight years — but he’s one not only from an athletic mindset, but he’s building his volleyball IQ.”

Rucinski said Sprayberry is constantly working on his craft. He’s now adding off-speed shots to go with his power. Through 13 matches, he’s registered 153 kills, 27 aces and 65 digs on a robust .41 hitting percentage.

“I’m always working on something to change because there’s always someone better than you,” Sprayberry said. “There’s always room for bettering yourself.”

While Oak Forest (9-6) is 0-2 without Sprayberry in the lineup, the Bengals are far from a one-man team. Outside hitter Dylan Ross is a threat and setter Brett Staehlin has done well in spreading the attack.

“We have a lot of good players who can step up,” Sprayberry said. “I knew I had to be a leader and be vocal to get the team together coming into the season. We’ve been working on our team chemistry and gym culture.”

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