Speight glad he decided to stick it out at Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, who had felt the wrath of coach Jim Harbaugh – if he forgot what it felt like, it was captured for all eternity on an HBO special – was ready to pack up and leave.

Speight was buried on the depth chart in the spring of 2015, Harbaugh’s first year, and during an HBO special, Harbaugh was caught yelling at a quarterback with his jersey number blurred. A very tall quarterback who obviously was Speight.

“If you want to look at me with that look, go (expletive) somewhere else,” Harbaugh told Speight, as captured by HBO.

Speight almost did.

His father had feelers were out to places like N.C. State. Today, he is Michigan’s starting quarterback and has led the Wolverines to an unbeaten season and No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings in his first season as the starter.

He leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency (158.0) and is 14th nationally. He’s also 22nd nationally in completion percentage at 64.5.

But this nearly didn’t happen.

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“My redshirt year, I was like, ‘OK, I’ll just redshirt,’” Speight said. “But when coach Harbaugh came in I got buried on the depth chart that spring. That redshirt freshman fall camp, I was on the phone with my parents, basically was, ‘OK, I’m out, let’s find a different school.’ They were on board. They obviously wanted me to stay here, but they were going to support my decision.

“One morning I just woke up and was about to tell coach and I just, I don’t know, didn’t feel right. So I said I’ll give it another week and I started playing better and by the end of camp I was taking reps with the 2s.”

Speight credited roommate Drake Harris, who asked him if he was really sure of his decision, and former starter Jake Rudock, who he backed up last season.

He frequently jokes now about his “appearance” on HBO.

“Everyone saw the HBO special,” Speight said Tuesday night after practice. “That wasn’t exactly the bubbly, ‘Hey, stick around.’ That was more, ‘Please get out of my face and never come back.’ Coach Harbaugh told me over the summer when we had our individual meetings, ‘Hey, you’re going to get a shot,’ so I believed him. I started to see the writing on the wall a little bit the first week of camp. I said screw it, I’m going to work as hard as I can.”

Harbaugh didn’t know then what Speight was thinking, but pass-game coordinator Jedd Fisch did.

“They both know now,” Speight said. “I’ve expressed that to them. Obviously myself and those two guys are happy that I didn’t.”

After throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for his first college score and setting a first-half program record with 292 passing yards last Saturday against Maryland, Harbaugh laughed a bit but said Speight should be in the Heisman Trophy conversation.

Harbaugh doesn’t like to set boundaries or specific expectations, but Speight has impressed him.

“Yeah, he’s superseding the hopes,” Harbaugh said this week. “He’s gone past what we were hoping he would be in a big way. He’s been outstanding. I’d be lying if I said he hasn’t more than exceeded what we were even hoping he could be.”

What was Harbaugh hoping for Speight could achieve this season?

“Young player having his first college starts, you would expect it would be a process,” Harbaugh said. “You’d expect there would be a two-step forward, a step back, bumps in the road, tough games, but he’s met the challenge at every task. Acquitted himself more than really good.

“He’s got a hot hand, but it’s come through preparation and come through being really important to him. It’s really why you don’t put expectations on people. It’s why you don’t limit what you think they can be. You let them have at it, and that’s been our approach with every position. If you put expectations on somebody or limit them, maybe they don’t reach as high as they possibly can.”

Nose tackle Ryan Glasgow shares a house with Speight and several other teammates. He said Speight is constantly at Schembechler Hall between classes and after practice watching film and throwing extra balls with receivers.

“He seems laser-focused,” Glasgow said. “He seems like he really gets it. He’s really playing great football right now. I don’t know too much about the quarterback position, but I say his level of focus is ridiculous and one of the best I’ve ever seen from a football player while at Michigan.”

Speight said he has always approached the game this way.

“I probably am more (focused) this year than in years past,” he said. “Once the spotlight hit me, it wasn’t like, ‘OK, time to change who I am now.’ I always knew when the spotlight hit me it was going to be who I was. That’s why I wanted to be ready for it.

“I can’t change who I am once I’m here talking to you guys (in the media). It’s got to be who I am as a human being. I just tried to be the best person I could be every day when I was the fifth-string quarterback and now when I’m the starter it’s the same guy.”

And he’s glad to be here proving that.