Nixa safeties Spencer Ward and Broden Mabe may rate as the best such combo in the COC this season and are seen side by side away from the gridiron as much as on it.
Interestingly, Ward and Mabe didn’t begin to become best friends five years ago because of their time together in the Eagles’ secondary. Rather, it was their time together in a Nixa backcourt.
“Eighth grade basketball season was when we bonded,” Ward said. "We were A team subs and B team starters. We were LeBron and Dwyane Wade out there. Broden would get a rebound and I'd be up the floor and he'd chuck the ball to me. We had a chemistry.”
“We were killers out there, a dynamic duo,” Mabe said. “We had such a good connection. We went out and had a good time.”
Ward and Mabe are Nixa lifers, but hadn’t met until they converged in junior high. Ward attended elementary school at John Thomas School of Discovery and Mabe attended Inman.
They hadn’t played flag football with or against each other since Mabe didn’t give football a try until he was in the seventh grade.
Upon their first meeting, Ward wouldn’t have guessed he and Mabe would become besties.
“I was hesitant in general making new friends because I was in junior high and kind of nervous,” Ward said. “But we formed a bond and a trust with each other.”
Ward and Mabe eventually gave up basketball in favor of their pursuits in football, baseball and track.
During Nixa’s co-COC championship football season last year, they both transitioned from offense to defense. Ward still sees spot duty on offense, but went from being the Eagles’ feature back his sophomore season to a full-time role at strong safety as a junior. Mabe went from being a running back and wide receiver on the jayvee level as a sophomore to being a starting outside linebacker on Friday nights as a junior.
Ward led the Eagles last season with 132.5 tackles, including 114 solo stops, while Mabe had 36.5 tackles, including 29 solo stops.
This season has been the one they’ve been pointing to. Nixa’s defensive huddle unquestionably is theirs to lead.
“I'm for sure the head honcho out there and he for sure helps me out and calls coverage for his side,” Ward said. “This is my dawg. I have full trust in him. He runs downhill and hits hard. I know we're going to tear some stuff up.”
“We both have good instincts and are confident in our abilities,” Mabe added.
As much as Ward and Mabe are alike, they are also different. The only taste in music they seem to share is their love of The Weeknd.
“I also like Brent Faiyaz and Kendrick Lamar,” Ward said.
“I like country music,” Mabe said. “But I can vibe with any music, so I don't mind listening to anything.”
Ward is a fan of the Seattle Seahawks and Mabe a fan of the Super Bowl champion Chiefs.
It’s been 21 years since the Chiefs and Seahawks were AFC West rivals, so Mabe didn’t mind when Ward nicknamed the Eagles’ secondary the ‘Legion of Boom,’ in reference to the longtime moniker of the Seahawks’ secondary.
“Even though I’m a Chiefs fan, it’s got a good ring to it,” Mabe said.
Each spring while Ward is running track and Mabe is playing baseball, they obviously aren’t spending many afternoons together. No matter, their friendship remains as tight as ever.
“We don't have to hang out with each other all the time,” Ward said. “When we are around each other, we're close and always talking. We're like brothers almost.”
Looking ahead, Ward will continue his football career at the college level and Mabe will do the same in baseball. But they plan to keep in touch and remain close for many years to come.
“I really want to keep all my friends throughout my life because they are such a big part of who I am today,” Mabe said.
"We built (our friendship) up all the way until here so I hope we stay in touch,” Ward said. “Hopefully, we'll be at each other's weddings and be like an uncle to our kids.”