Michigan QB commit Wilton Speight overcomes major injury to earn scholarship
They collided as Speight, The Collegiate School's star quarterback, reached for the right pylon. His legs were taken out, and he landed on his elbow. Jacked on adrenaline, Speight didn't think anything of it.
"But when I tossed the ball back to the ref, I just heard a crunch," he said. "I was immediately like, 'Oh my God. That's not good.'"
The big-time Richmond Va., prospect returned to the sideline, and the trainer reached inside his shoulder pads. He felt three breaks.
It was the right collarbone.
"At that point, I just looked at my dad and said, 'I think this is it. I think it's over,'" Speight said.
Collarbone breaks aren't rare, but Speight's was so severe it required a metal plate and eight screws to repair.
His junior season, the most critical for a recruit, was over after one game. It was a catastrophic injury for the quarterback, who was being recruited by several major-level colleges.
Most, including nearby Virginia Tech, backed off their recruitment and Speight decided to reclassify from 2013 to '14.
So 17 months later, when Michigan called offering the 6-foot-6 quarterback a scholarship for the 2014 class, it's understandable why he would immediately accept.
"I had been through the whole recruiting process the past two years," he said. "I wasn't new to this whole process, and any athlete will tell you it's exhausting to talk to coaches all the time. Hear one thing, then receive something else. To be honest, at this point in my recruitment, I was just so tired of everything that recruiting puts you through.
"Nothing has come easy in this recruiting process for me at all. I just remind myself of that every day, to keep grinding and keep working hard and just be the best quarterback I can be. All I want is to win games for Michigan, and that's what I'll do."
Speight's offer and commitment passed somewhat quietly, considering they came on the morning of Feb. 6 -- signing day for the 2013 class. But for Speight, it was one of the biggest days of his life, the culmination of a recruitment that was far more arduous than most.
It took about two months to regain strength in the shoulder. Then, Speight had to impress coaches all over again, proving the injury would not impair that big arm.
"It was such a serious injury, it definitely scared off a lot of teams," he said. "It hit the reset button on everything."
Speight worked hard to regain his form, and eventually enlisted the help of a quarterbacks coach, Steve Clarkson, who has worked with elite players at every level.
Clarkson lives in Los Angeles -- more than 2,000 miles from Richmond.
Speight was referred to Clarkson by David Sills, a top 2015 quarterback from Delaware who is committed to USC. He boards a U.S. Airways plane and makes the cross-country flight about once a month, typically on weekends and over holidays.
He's flown more than 40,000 miles for the specialized training.
"It is tough, being crammed in the back of a plane being 6-foot-6," Speight said. "But it's worth it -- it's definitely worth it."
Speight returned better than ever. He said he passed for about 2,900 yards and 32 touchdowns in 10 games last year for The Collegiate School. He also rushed for six scores.
Michigan came after him hard in the offseason, with assistants Jeff Hecklinski, Jerry Montgomery and Al Borges all involved, as well as head coach Brady Hoke.
Finally, on Feb. 1 -- the Friday before signing day -- Hecklinski flew to Richmond to observe a private workout. Speight arrived at 6:30 a.m. for the session at his school's gym.
He tossed about 20 passes before Hecklinski, Michigan's receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, said that was enough.
"He told me, 'I could have stopped you after five passes. Everything I'm seeing now is everything we've seen on film,'" Speight said.
He felt good about the workout, but wasn't positive he would get an offer. The Wolverines told him they were also considering two other quarterbacks for 2014.
Three days later, they called to tell him they would offer on Feb. 6. An offer he accepted on the spot.
"Michigan's staff was the first staff to be 100 percent honest with me throughout the whole process, and that meant a huge amount to me," Speight said. "There's lots of coaches from all over the country who will come in and say, 'You're our guy, you're our guy. Just wait, you're going to get an offer.' And then they go out and find someone who's better.
"Michigan, they didn't necessarily tell me I was their guy. They said, 'We're looking at two other guys too.' The thing is, I already knew that, because the quarterback recruits, we're a tight circle. We're all pretty close, and I knew who else they were looking at. And the fact they were up front with me about that meant a lot.
"It was just a perfect fit for me. It was a no-brainer."
Although Speight's play has returned to a high level, he still is dealing with the fallout of his injury. There's that extra year of high school to deal with, although he hopes to enroll at Michigan next January.
There's also the recruiting rankings, which don't include Speight largely because he hasn't been able to compete on the summer camp circuit.
He wasn't included among Rivals' initial list of the top 250 prospects -- a list that includes 17 quarterbacks. But after everything he's endured, and with a scholarship offer from Michigan in hand, he simply doesn't care.
"I'm not worried about it," Speight said. "I'm just looking forward to getting up to Michigan and being the quarterback there, and showing everyone that whether I get ranked or not, it doesn't matter, because we're going to win some games."
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