Michigan Football Preview 2017

2017 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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54 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW In this offseason, it's been easy for some to remember a 1-3 close to the 2016 season, each of the three losses a play away from a win. It's been a reflexive move to recall a pair of crucial interceptions against Ohio State, deep in Michigan's territory. Speight certainly hasn't forgotten himself. Nor has his head coach, Jim Harbaugh. At the same time, they see the full picture. They know that Speight — in his first season as a starter — delivered a third-team All-Big Ten performance, becoming a Davey O'Brien Quarterback Award semifinalist. They know he connected on 61.6 percent of his passes for 2,538 yards, tossing 18 touch- down passes against only seven interceptions. They also know he can get better. Word out of spring practice had Speight always the first up for snaps, not splitting repetitions with Michigan's first string in any meaningful full scrimmage. Among the quarterbacks, he posted the best completion percentage, endured the fewest turnovers and demonstrated command of the entire offense. Harbaugh stressed during spring practice that the QB battle will always be just that, a "meritocracy" decided on results. Such a dec- laration certainly keeps fifth-year senior John O'Korn and redshirt freshman gunslinger Brandon Peters in the picture. "We go through camp, somebody stands out and it's undeniable — that's what we're looking for, that one guy," Harbaugh said. "Eight, nine, 10 practices, that's probably the range where you make up your mind on something like that. It's always going to be that meritocracy." Of all people, Speight knows not to rest on his accomplishments or to take anything for granted. Talk is talk, and the season's coming. "That's just kind of how Coach operates," Speight said. "It's ingrained into all of our minds. "You hear Coach at the banquet, saying he thinks I'll be one of the best quarterbacks in the country next year. But the next day, he's saying, 'I'm throwing out the balls, and what- ever happens, happens.'" Speight showed off a wry grin with that reflection. He knows the score, and plans to come out on top. The fourth-year Michigan quarterback showed his leadership, interest and dedication in the days following his subpar spring game showing. He hopped on the jet to Rome for Michigan's highly publicized conclusion to its spring practices and let everyone witness how they should act. When the Wolverines encountered refugees on the first day of the trip, nobody threw himself into ambassador mode more than the Michigan quarterback. The Wolverines exchanged throws and warm greetings with the survivors from strife-torn regions, and Speight set the tone. "That was a tremendous opportunity to jump into a melting pot of people and bounce each other's backgrounds off each other," Speight told the Big Ten Network. "It put a lot into perspective. "I got close with a guy named Mohammad, from Gambia, who had to leave his family, his parents. He and his siblings came to Italy. Gambia just wasn't a very safe place for them to be at that time. He said he came to Italy with the shirt on his back, a pair of shorts and some shoes that were two sizes too small. "That really, right off the bat, put things into perspective. I look at myself and the rest of the team. We're wearing new Jordan gear for this trip. It really just makes us realize how fortunate we are and that we shouldn't take it for granted." Angelique Chengelis, who has covered the Wolverines for The Detroit News the past 25 years, took special note of Speight's involved persona. "Wilton Speight has been there, and he's a leader," Chengelis said. "The way he threw himself into this trip — I'm not sure I had any preconceived notions, but it was a little surprising to me. "He was the guy with the refugees on the first day, just getting into it. And every day, whatever the event was, he got into it." That's meaningful beyond international relations. Harbaugh will always look for leadership out of his quarterback, and Spei- ght went out of his way to demonstrate such in Rome. He'll do the same over the summer — or- ganizing player-led sessions, bringing along younger receivers and asserting himself in ways that last year's starter can do with au- thority. Competition or no, Speight entered sum- mer acting like he's going to be in charge. "You want a great locker room presence from your quarterback," Chengelis observed. "You want a guy who everybody relates to. I thought he did a really good job on this trip, getting involved with every group and being a part of his entire team, defensive guys too. THE NEXT STEP Wilton Speight Wants To Move Michigan Forward In his first year as a starter, Speight earned third-team All-Big Ten accolades and was tabbed as a Davey O'Brien Quarterback Award (college football's top QB) semifinalist. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN BY JOHN BORTON W ilton Speight knew he'd caused a stir, and not the sort he might have intended. When you fire a pass that ends up 100 yards in the other direction, folks notice. Never mind that the redshirt junior quarterback's pick-six oc- curred in the meaningless spring game, via an ersatz offense geared to give away no secrets. Speight threw the ball to the other team, sending 57,000 metal-bench coaches into reevaluation mode. "That's just kind of how it works," Speight noted. "That's what we've all embraced and accepted. I'm sure the spring game showing won't really help that. There is going to be all kind of buzz going around. But it's all a part of being Coach Harbaugh's quarterback."

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