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Meet Joe Spivak, Northwestern’s Internet-famous walk-on defensive tackle

He chose Northwestern over a Michigan State offer and achieved instant Twitter fame.

@JoeSpivak on Twitter

Joe Spivak opened Twitter on the morning of February 1 and saw “20 or 30” notifications. He refreshed and dozens more came flooding in.

“I walked out of class and my buddies were just like, ‘Dude what is happening?!’”

He hadn’t done anything of note that day — walk-ons don’t sign Letters of Intent — but Pat Fitzgerald had announced him as a preferred walk-on, and Internet fame followed. It all stemmed from a tweet that featured Spivak’s 247 Sports profile; the now-famous header photo is from his freshman year.

“Definitely an unexpected amount of publicity,” Spivak told Inside NU. “But it was fun. I had a good time with it. Just very humbling to get the response I did. It was kind of a no-brainer for me to stay for Northwestern, but clearly it wasn’t for a lot of others.”

After all, Spivak had plenty of scholarship offers. His first came in the winter of 2016 from Illinois State. Over the summer, his recruiting picked up. Several other FCS schools reached out, as did some Mountain West and MAC programs. In the fall, he stockpiled some Ivy League offers; Dartmouth, Yale and Princeton all offered. But it was a summer walk-on offer at a Northwestern individual showcase that led to him accepting a preferred walk-on spot back two days before Thanksgiving.

“Since like freshman year, I’ve hit up at least two or three camps each summer,” Spivak said. “I kind of forced them to look at me. I had to do what I had to do, and now I’m gonna be a Wildcat, so it worked out well.”

But the recruiting process wasn’t quite done yet. After a senior season in which he registered 64 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and four sacks, Michigan State came calling and eventually reached out. Still, Spivak remained committed to the Wildcats.

“I was very honored by that offer,” Spivak said of the Spartan offer, which arrived just weeks before Signing Day. “That’s the one thing I wanted to make very clear to the reporters. I know Michigan State kind of got a lot of bad publicity because of my decision... It was really just how in love I am with Northwestern and how much they’ve done for me. I don’t think program could’ve came in and gotten me to decommit from Northwestern.”

One of the aspects that set Northwestern apart was the relationships Spivak built: He had just returned from his official visit and had grown close to a lot of the members of the 2017 class, something that helped Northwestern stand out.

“We’re in our group chat every single night joking around, sending funny stuff. I’ve met the majority of the guys, but even a lot of the guys who I haven’t met, I already feel like I’m starting to get close with... Everyone’s really excited to be part of it.”

But for as much as Spivak’s known now for his Internet fame and his boundless energy, none of that should overshadow his considerable abilities on the field. He was an All-State performer for Montini, located west of Chicago (Spivak is from Darien, which is southwest of the city). He started in wrestling but has been playing since the fourth grade, when his father, also named Joe introduced the game to him. The elder Joe played for Illinois State and was in Chicago Bears training camps in the 1980s.

“He introduced it to me in a way that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it,” the younger Spivak said. “The second I made my first block or tackle or whatever it was, I was automatically hooked.”

At 5-foot-11 and 285 pounds, Spivak lists run stopping as his top skill; he prides himself on being able to take up double teams and stay in his lane and fill his responsibility His Hudl tape backs that up.

The next steps for Spivak include improving on the field, focusing on getting better at his pass-rushing abilities, and visiting Evanston for spring practices while growing closer with his teammates. Northwestern is receiving a player who’s hungry and humble — someone who truly loves playing football.

“I’m just so blessed to have this opportunity to walk on. My battles are so insignificant to so many other peoples’. My battles are things that I have fun with and can win. It definitely carries over to the football field.”