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Star LB Robert Spillane staying at WMU, after all

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

On the day Western Michigan unveiled its snazzy Mid-American Conference championship rings, the Broncos roster got an addition with a familiar ring to it.

Linebacker Robert Spillane announced he will return to Western Michigan, after all, after deciding in late February to transfer elsewhere for his senior season.

Spillane, 21, announced his return on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.

“The encouragement and support I have received during this time from my teammates, coaches, and family has been nothing but amazing,” Spillane wrote. “I have realized that WMU has been my home for 3 years and is the place I want to call home in 20 years.

“Thank you to my coaches and teammates at WMU for accepting me back with open arms. Thank you to Bronco Nation for having my back, and thank you to my FAMILY for everything.

“I can’t wait to get back in brown and gold with the teammates tomorrow preparing for USC!”

Western Michigan opens the 2017 season at Southern California.

Spillane was welcomed back only after he met with the team’s leadership council this week, MLive reported.

Coach Tim Lester told MLive that Spillane will have to earn his starting spot.

Asked for further comment from The News, a Western Michigan spokesman said Spillane is letting his statement speak for him. He will made available for interviews in the future, the spokesman said.

The news is a big boost for Western Michigan, which already was losing its star quarterback Zach Terrell and star wide receiver Corey Davis to graduation. The defense was expected to be a big part of the team’s 2017 success, at least until Spillane said he was leaving.

Spillane announced his desire to transfer shortly after coach P.J. Fleck left to take the head-coaching job at Minnesota. That led to rampant speculation that Spillane — who is close to Fleck — sought a transfer to Minnesota. Minnesota, after learning Fleck had contact with some of his former players, said the school wasn’t recruiting WMU players, but did self-report a minor violation.

Spillane, many experts believe, has the talent to play in the Big Ten, but transferring always was a hard sell, given he only has one year of eligibility remaining, and anywhere he went, he’d have to sit out a full season before playing that one season.

He was a big key behind the Broncos’ 13-0 start and MAC championship in 2016. In the opener against Northwestern, he had a key strip with the Wildcats on the goal line, sealing that marquee victory.

Then late in the MAC title game at Ford Field, and with Ohio driving, Spillane had the game-sealing interception.

He had three interceptions, two forced fumbles and two sacks in 2016.

Earlier this week, junior defensive lineman Nathan Braster was granted his release and will transfer. Interestingly, on Wednesday, the same day Spillane returned, Braster tweeted, “I think I made a huge mistake.”