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Gary Spani was born in Satanta, Kansas, but raised in Manhattan, Kansas, and graduated from Manhattan High School. He played college football at Kansas State University. At Kansas State, he was a three-time All Big Eight Conference selection, was conference defensive player of the year in 1977, and was named the school's first consensus All American in 1977. He still holds the all-time tackles record for Kansas State University. Following graduation, Spani was named MVP of the East-West Shrine Game.