The Wolverine

October 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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24 THE WOLVERINE OCTOBER 2016 even finding humor in the ever-pres- ent on-field negativity. "I like to be calm," Speight noted, following his award-winning second start. "There were a couple of times I would be laughing during a play call. That's kind of how I would like to live every day — just chill and go with the flow. "There was one UCF player that was trying to talk smack at me, and I just started dying laughing. We heard him from the huddle. There were other times we'd be up on the line of scrim- mage and I'd think something was funny. That's just kind of how I roll." He certainly got on a roll early, when few predicted it. BACK STORY FOR A QB THAT WOULDN'T GIVE IN Speight emerged from The Colle- giate School in Virginia among Michi- gan's 2014 class. He'd certainly fared well enough as a prep star, throwing for 5,879 yards and 68 touchdowns his final two seasons. He entered Michigan a three-star signee in's assessment, the second-lowest-rated newcomer in a 16-man class. With Devin Gardner entrenched at quarterback and one- time five-star Morris grooming for the job with a year under his belt, Speight appeared to some like an insurance policy. That perception changed slowly, and quietly, behind closed doors in Harbaugh's first 16 months on the job. Speight went from nicked up and toughened up by the head coach in the spring of 2015, to saving the day as a backup at Minnesota later that year, to the starting job in 2016. Throughout, he carried a grow- ing confidence, even when outsiders weren't jumping on the train. "I finished spring ball on top, and I was told going into camp that I would start there and it was my job to lose," Speight recalled. "I made sure to stay there. I didn't really worry about him naming the starter." Fisch recalls the steps along the way and all that went into Speight's ascen- sion. "He's had a big jump — there's no question about that," Fisch said. "Go- ing into game one of last year, he had only about 75 reps in all of camp. To where he's at, at this point in time, yeah, it's a huge jump. "I give him a lot of credit for it. He gained confidence in the game he went in. He gained confidence in having some snaps. "Really, the second half of training camp of last year, he just continued to improve. Spring ball was a lot for him, a year and a half or so ago, but he's really improved every week, became more and more comfortable. It's a dif- ferent Wilton now a days, definitely a more confident guy." He's admittedly a tougher, more fo- cused guy as well. His first season — amid program turmoil, and the even- tual resignation of Michigan director of athletics David Brandon and the firing of head football coach Brady Hoke — spun out of control on several fronts. "I didn't know what was going on that year," he admitted. "Not many people did, really. It was kind of a messy year. It didn't end well at all. I just kind of skated through that year, without much discipline, with what I should be doing for football. "It was kind of a rude awakening when they [Harbaugh's staff] came and I realized I needed to change some things, in terms of my preparation for the game of football. I was able to do that, and it worked out. "That whole spring was rough. I tore my groin. I wasn't really able to perform like I wanted to, but still prac- ticed every practice." In addition to Harbaugh's spot- lighted hardball moment on HBO, Speight received plenty of deep teach- ing and encouragement along the way. At the end of the spring sessions, though, he wasn't within shouting distance of the top spot on the depth chart. "There was some hard self-evalua- tion after that spring, talking to Coach Fisch and Coach Harbaugh," Speight acknowledged. "They just said, 'Hey, if you want this, you've just got to work a little bit harder.' That's what I did." Entering the Big Ten season, he still has much to prove, Speight admitted. He does laugh off the lumbering, "im- mobile" tag, one that Harbaugh him- self indicated does not apply. Speight (above) and John Navarre in 2000 are the only two Michigan quarterbacks to throw for seven touchdowns in the first two games of a season. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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