SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Amber Shrader watched from her seat in the corner of Carter-Finley Stadium last weekend, not entirely sure what was coming. It was hard to see exactly how far back her son Spencer had set up for a field goal late in the first quarter of Notre Dame’s eventual 45-24 win at NC State. It looked like a bomb, but even after four years of watching Shrader kick at USF, a poor line of sight remains undefeated.
Steve Shrader had a slightly better view, but only because of his anxiety. The IT professional has a hard time sitting still during his son’s games, so he walked the concourses at NC State to calm down. In the moment, there was no thought about Spencer’s first made Notre Dame field goal being the longest in school history. Even after the 54-yard shot cleared the crossbar with ease.
“We started getting texts from friends pretty quickly after the kick telling us and letting us know,” Amber said. “It came from all of our friends. As the game proceeded to go on, other parents were seeing the posts on Instagram.
And that’s saying something in the athletic career of Spencer Shrader, which has spanned three continents, two business ventures and now one Notre Dame record, which seems almost certain to be rewritten. He’s got the leg for it. He’s got the head for it.
After a nearly two-hour weather delay when lightning rolled through Raleigh, head coach Marcus Freeman called on Shrader again, this time to try from 56 yards out after the deluge. The kicker’s run-up began with his right foot inches inside the 50-yard line, and the kick was so well struck it hit more than halfway up the left upright before bouncing back. It was enough to back up Shrader’s claim that he can make field goals from 63 yards out. Special teams coordinator Marty Biagi went further, saying he’d seen Shrader hit from 70.
Notre Dame’s head coach is a believer, too.
“I don’t know how far that equates out to, somebody that can do the geometry and stuff and measure angles can tell you how far that ball would have went,” Freeman said. “He’s got a huge leg.”
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To say that Shrader expected all this is not quite accurate. But it’s not fair to say any of this has surprised Shrader, either, considering he has lived previous versions of this story before.
In high school — Shrader kicked at Newsome High outside Tampa despite being home-schooled — Shrader picked up kicking as a senior because he wanted a new challenge. He taught himself off YouTube and got some help from his sister Sophie’s soccer coach. He hit a 50-yarder in one of his first sessions and was all-state as a senior, beating out a more experienced kicker for the starting job.
Instead of letting that kicking success take him to college, Shrader followed a different passion. Soccer had been Shrader’s love, to the point he opened an athletic training business — Shrader Athletics — with Sophie that now has five employees and trains athletes in baseball, basketball, soccer and speed/agility. Shrader made friends with a foreign exchange student at Newsome whose father owned training academies in Brazil. He invited Shrader down.
“It was that night I decided to do it, so I went inside and told my parents and they’re like, ‘Sure, we support you,’” Shrader said. “‘Go ahead.’”
Shrader fractured his ankle after arriving for the three-month training plan, but when it was time to leave, Shrader had earned an invite to train with a club’s U20 team. Making it to the top of Brazilian soccer would take years, with no guarantee of actually getting there. So Shrader returned home, trained in Canada for three months, picked up more Brazilian soccer interest and then finally decided to walk on at USF in football in the face of long odds of seeing the field.
He ended up winning the kicking job as a freshman and never looked back. In his Bulls career, Shrader made 28 of 40 field goals and kicked off all four years, which included a stop at Notre Dame Stadium in 2020.
When USF changed coaching staffs last fall, Shrader thought about his next challenge, not that continuing his college football career was a given. Michigan, Alabama and Georgia called. So did Notre Dame via special teams coordinator Brian Mason, who could relate to the Florida family of native Hoosiers. Steve Shrader grew up in Culver, about an hour south of South Bend. When Mississippi State planned to visit Shrader on a Wednesday last December, Mason told Shrader he’d be there Tuesday.
Shrader committed to Notre Dame just days after the transfer portal opened and attended the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville on Dec. 30 with his parents.
“We couldn’t have imagined in a million years that he would end up at Notre Dame,” Steve said. “He was ready to be done with football. Once you enter the portal, you don’t know what is going to happen.”
For example, maybe the special teams coordinator who recruited you to Notre Dame leaves for the NFL less than a month after you commit. Mason proved to be one-and-done in South Bend, taking the same job with the Indianapolis Colts last January. Shrader was still five months away from enrolling at Notre Dame. The news didn’t make Shrader rethink the choice, just changed his view on the experience.
The attraction of Notre Dame was the way it represented a step out of Shrader’s comfort zone; the same perspective had taken him to Brazil and led him to found an IT design company and manage rental properties. And he knew success could come quickly with work, dating back to Newsome when he didn’t make the soccer team as a freshman, then set the school’s goal-scoring record as a sophomore.
“I really felt like I was at a point where I needed another challenge in my life. I needed to be uncomfortable,” Shrader said. “A new adventure, a next step. Meeting new people, meeting new teammates, networking at Notre Dame. I just felt like God was calling me to a new place.”
Notre Dame won’t be home for long, but Shrader is making the most of the short-term stay. His business interests are spread among training, IT and real estate. When Shrader asked Freeman about alumni connections at the school, Freeman linked Shrader with Tom Mendoza, whose name adorns the business school. The two have talked more than once, Shrader asking for Mendoza’s advice on hiring a CFO.
For Shrader, there’s more at work than alumni networks, record-breaking field goals, overseas travel and business ventures. He’s a kicker who didn’t plan to be here but somehow feels ordained to be in this very space at this very time.
What Shrader does from here is anyone’s guess, including his own. There’s a chance he could kick in the NFL. It just won’t be a surprise if the most interesting chapter of his book has nothing to do with kicking a football. Then again, hitting the longest field goal in school history makes for a pretty good story on its own.
(Top photo courtesy of the Shrader family)