For 71/2 years in his first job out of college, in the annuities department at Nationwide Insurance, Mark Spencer climbed the corporate ladder, earning six promotions.

For 71/2 years in his first job out of college, in the annuities department at Nationwide Insurance, Mark Spencer climbed the corporate ladder, earning six promotions.

It wasn't enough to keep him from thinking what he really wanted to do with his life.

"It just wasn't fulfilling," he said. "Something was missing … and all of a sudden, what kind of came back to me was, when I graduated from Ohio University, what was really in my heart."

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In 1991, two years after he graduated from Worthington High School, Spencer had walked on the Ohio football team. He stayed for four seasons, playing tailback and earning a scholarship as a senior, before graduating with a degree in sports administration.

"I kind of knew in my heart that coaching was what I was supposed to do," he said, "but I think the fact that I'd seen the downside of the profession - coaches fired, and what it did to their families - kind of deterred me."

The Bobcats won seven games in Spencer's four years, and coach Tom Lichtenberg and his staff were dismissed after a winless season in 1994.

"After that, I just decided, 'Well, what's the next-best alternative,' " Spencer said.

In the time he worked for Nationwide, Spencer turned a business minor at Ohio into a second bachelor's degree, in business administration, from Franklin University. But as time passed, "I just realized that wasn't the place for me," he said. "The football field was."

So, unmarried and without children, Spencer quit. Then he began cold-calling college football coaches, asking if he could volunteer. Mark Dantonio, then coach at Cincinnati, was the first to answer yes.

Spencer was hired as an unpaid video intern assigned to the receivers coach, Don Treadwell. Treadwell now is coach at Miami University, which plays Ohio State on Saturday. Spencer is his receivers coach. Between Cincinnati and Miami, though, has been a step-by-step climb on the coaching ladder.

"I worked for free for six months before actually being given the (Cincinnati) job," Spencer said. "I was commuting from Columbus. I was driving down Monday, staying over at one of the graduate assistants' homes, getting up and going to work on Tuesday, coming back home on Wednesday, driving back down on Thursday, staying overnight through Friday. If we had anything on the weekend, I would just kind of crash down there, too.

"When they hired me, I ended up getting myself a little place down there, and that was kind of how it all got going."

Spencer was an intern at Cincinnati for two seasons.

"He was a tremendous worker," Dantonio said. "Because he came from the corporate world, he had a different way of thinking about things. It wasn't just coach-speak all the time. He always tried to be very proactive in everything he was doing and be very on-task."

In 2005, Spencer became a graduate assistant at Division III Bluffton. In 2007, he coached defensive backs at Iowa Wesleyan. In 2008 and '09, he coached tight ends at Youngstown State. In 2010, he coached receivers at Ohio Dominican. Last year, when Treadwell was hired by Miami, he gave Spencer his first full-time job in a Football Bowl Subdivision program.

Spencer doesn't know where he goes from here, whether he continues the climb until he's running his own program. He only knows he likes mentoring young men at a pivotal time in their lives.

"My goal is to become the best that I can," Spencer said. "Wherever that might take me, that's the one thing that I can hang my hat on, that I can say I did what I was supposed to do. To me, that's what life is about, doing what you know you're supposed to do, so you have that sense of fulfillment rather than that sense of regret."