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November 26, 2013 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2013-11-26

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8 - Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

,,

4

CURKiTSY OF COLLEGIATE IGH SCHOOM L
Michigan commit Wilton Speight broke his collarbone during a game on Sept. 9, 2011. The next year was supposed to be his senior year, but surgery upended his college plans and forced him to enroll in a fifth year of high school.
For quarterback commit Wilton Speight, a
dream is realized, but later than planned
The three/four-star recruit seemed bound for
Virginia Tech. But after surgery to insert a metal
rod and eight screws in his shoulder,
the plan changed.

4

4

By ALEXA DETTELBACH
Daily Sports Writer
It seemed like yet another Friday night game
under the lights. Yet another quarterback takingthe
field looking to lead his troops and leave a legacy. Yet
another star in the making.
For Wilton Speight, the night started out ordi-
nary. But at night's end, when the team left the field,
the fans emptied the bleachers and the Friday night
lights shut off, Speight's future as a football player
seemed anything but certain.
It was Sept. 9, 2011 and the junior quarterback was
opening Richmond, Va.'s Collegiate High School's
football season with a matchup against Trinity Epis-
copal in front of a home crowd.
On a drive in the middle of the game, Speight led
the Cougars down the field with ease. A quick run-
option play had Speight heading for the end zone.
Quickly, allthat stood between Speightand six points
was a Trinity safety, but Speight paid him little mind.
As he reached for the right pylon, he collided with
the safety, landing on his elbow to brace the fall.
With all eyes on him, the junior jumped up after
the touchdown - and the collision - celebrating as
he made hisoway tothe Collegiate sideline, amid deaf-
ening cheers from the home crowd.
Thriving on adrenaline, Speight had to wait for
the trainer to check him out on the sideline before he
knew anything was wrong. The trainer quickly felt
three breaks underneath his shoulder pads, and the
diagnosis was clear - a broken right collarbone, his
throwing arm.
"I definitely knew he was done after that," said
Collegiate coach Mark Palyo.
Collarbone injuries are common in football. But
Speight's required a metal rod and eight screws to
be inserted. He had the surgery almost immediately
after the game.
"The recovery (with the rod), the way I've seen
it, is a faster way than on its own, and that's why he
had it put in," Palyo said. "And of course it takes some
time to come back, but amazingly he was back on the
field in 22 or 23 days after the surgery doing light arm
motions and lighttosses."
The Cougars ended the season 2-6 without the
guidance of their quarterback. But despite the quick
recovery, Speight had essentially missed his entire
junior season - the most important year for an aspir-

salvage his future playing career.
In 2011, going into his junior season, Speight was
a highly regarded recruit. Though he had yet to com-
mit to a school, for the Virginia native, all signs point-
ed to Virginia Tech.
Following the injury, though, the Hokies with-
drew their offer, leaving Speight with little choice
on how to resurrect his career. Speight decided to
reclassify and repeat his junior year at Collegiate.
"A lot went into the decision," Speight said. "A lot
of conversations with my friends, my family and the
school. It was a tough decision, especially seeing all
my buddies go off to college early, but last season, my
second junior year, was really good."
"Really good," is an understatement. During his
second junior season, Speight exploded for 2,900
yards and 32 touchdown, and he rushed for six more
- all in just 10 games. And despite an early exit from
the state playoffs, Speight's season launched him
back into the national spotlight and onto Michigan's
radar.
Following the 2012 season, Speight had multiple
offers - suitors coming in from North Carolina State
and Miami. He chose to commit to the Wolverines on
Feb. 6, 2013, signing day for the 2013 class.
Since signing with Michigan, Speight has shot up
the recruiting rankings. He's now considered a three
and four-star recruit from multiple sources. ESPN
currently ranks the quarterback as the sixth best at
his position, while Rivals and Scout rank him the
16th and 21st quarterback, respectively.
As a player, Speight has everything a team looks
for in a quarterback. At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, he is
blessed with size. He's a pro-style player with strong
pocket presence and a cannon of an arm. Speight has
also shown flashes of mobility
and an ability to make throws
outside of the pocket.
"I have been with Wilton "(Drake
for five years, and I can still
remember his very first year and I a
when we had to pull him up to excitedt
the varsity team (because) we
had a need for a backup quar-
terback," Palyo said. "In our
very first scrimmage, which
was against a really good public
school team, I had to put him in
because our first string quarterback got hurt a little
bit.
"One of the first things that really stood out to me
was his pocket poise and presence. For such a young
person to get thrown in against a really good oppo-
nent, he actually showed great composure in the
pocket at a very early point."
Above all else, though, Speight has a cerebral game
that onlythe best players in the sport can add.
"One thing I've done with him that I haven't done
with any other quarterback (is) I will turn it over to
him, and he knows," Palyo said. "We just have a little
hand signal, and I let him make the call according to
what he has seen on the field. He understands those
aspects of the game."
Considering Seattle Seahawks quarterback Rus-
sell Wilson attended Collegiate and played under
Palyo, his praises for Wilton can't be brushed off as
pretentious.
Speight's early ability to audible notoonly illustrates
his complex understanding of the game, but also his
leadership in the huddle and the locker room. He's

AI

A

COURTESY OF COLLEGIATE HIGH SCHOOL
Speight knows he'll face a logjam at the quarterback position at Michigan, with current redshirt junior Devin Gardner,
freshman Shane Morris and and redshirt sophomore Russell Bellomy. "When I agreed to play at Michigan, I agreed not (to)
shy away from competition," Speight said. "We have to embrace it, and I'm looking forward to the future"

ti
r'

also shown early signs of leadership at the collegiate
level, having reached out to many of his future team-
mates and taking part in linebacker commit Michael
Fern's Project 135. Fern's project has been a way to
promote Michigan to fellow recruits and help spread
the Wolverine brand.
"I think the most important thingthat we did was
to communicate with recruits and do our best to
build up a relationship so that they feel comfortable,"
Speight said of the project.
Following his senior sea-
son at Collegiate, Speight will
join four of his teammates and
Harris) enroll at Michigan in January.
Coming to campus early will
ire just help him get acclimated to the
hit the team and the culture, as well as
0 hgive him an opportunity to par-
,, ticipate in spring football.
unning. Among those early rela-
tionships he's already made,
Speight has grown close with
four-star wide receiver Drake
Harris. The two will be roommates in the spring and
have already put in some early work together at the
Elite 11 weekend in California this past spring.
"I'd say I'm probably closest with (Harris) because
we're just excited that we get to learn together and,
hopefully, do incredible things on the field," Speight
said. "He and I are just excited to hit the ground run-
ning."
But when Speight arrives on campus, the quarter-
back picture will look murky. Behind redshirt junior
Devin Gardner, the team also has redshirt sopho-
more Russell Bellomy and freshman Shane Morris.
While Bellomy has never been viewed as a viable
long-term option, Morris was brought in to assume
the role in future seasons. When he was initially
recruited, Morris was one of the top quarterbacks in
the country, but a case of mononucleosis during his
senior year of high school dropped him from a five-
star recruit to a four.
But Speight's addition to the equation should make
the quarterback competition fierce and entertaining
in the near future.

4

Since his injury, Speight has appreciated football
in a new way.
"He doesn't take anything for granted because it
could be that one simple play that wasn't that big of
a play that could change everything," Palyn said. "It
makes him realize anything can change. It can be
that one play, so since then he has been very diligent
in his work to be prepared both mentally and physi-
cally."
Having watched Speight develop for the last five
years, Palyo knows Michigan is getting a special
player.
"They're going to find a young man who's pas-
sionate about football," he said. "A young man who
is open and willing to be coached and (willing) to lis-
ten and to learn. He's always looking to learn to try
to understand the field better and better his vision
in the pocket. Wilton is definitely going to bring that
with him."
At the time of Speight's injury, he never imagined
re-classing would lead to a turf field emblazioned
with a block 'M' and a winged helmet. But one thing
Speight has learned in his four and a half years in
high school is that plans change, and you haveto take
obstacles as they come.
"I would never have been able to do any of this
without my family's support," Speight said. "They've
always been supportive in whatever I want to do,
and they're behind me 100 percent. I'm where I am
because of them."
While his parents' eyes will always stay focused on
him, new sets of eyes will be cast on Speight when he
arrives at Michigan.
Ones from coaches. Ones from teammates. And if
things go as planned for Speight, over 100,000 sets of
eyes when he takes the field at Michigan Stadium as
the starting quarterback for the Wolverines.

"Everyone including Shane and myself (are) going
to be in an intense competition for years to come,"
Speight said. "But when I agreed to playat Michigan,
I agreed not (to) shy away from competition. We have
to embrace it, and I'm looking forward to the future."

COURTESY Of COLLEGIATE HIGH SCHOOL
Speight exploded for 2.900 yards and 32 touchdowns in10
games during his second unior season and had offers from
North Carolina State and Miami, bathe decided to sign with
Michigan on Feb. 6, 2013 instead.

I

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