‘Battle rhythm,’ as Wilton Speight explained Wednesday night, was a term Jim Harbaugh taught to the Michigan football team when he first arrived in Ann Arbor.
The expression means waking up around the same time every day, eating breakfast, working out, going to classes and — of course — non-stop football.
“It just gets repetitive to where your body builds a callus to it,” Speight said, “and you just get really good at becoming numb to the pain.”
The redshirt junior, Michigan’s returning starting quarterback, has certainly developed his own battle rhythm.
Speaking in platitudes and expressions that would’ve made his head coach proud, Speight exuded an aura of confidence and poise — all from a guy supposedly in the heat of a spirited quarterback competition for a job he already won a year ago.
It may sound counterintuitive, but Speight has simply done what his coach has wanted him — and the rest of the team — to do: To become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
“I think I feel more comfortable, but at the same time, I don’t,” Speight said. “Because that’s Coach Harbaugh’s mission, is to make sure we feel uncomfortable at all times.”
That mentality has helped him deal with any of the outside chatter (and there was quite a lot of chatter) about his hold on the position, especially after he and the Wolverines slid to a 1-3 finish in their final four games of the season. A shaky spring game performance, coupled with solid games from his two competitors, intensified the noise. Speight, though, says he hasn’t paid any attention to it, comparing himself to a ‘racehorse that wears the blinders.’
“That’s because the jockey or the owner doesn’t want the horse to be distracted, and that’s kind of always the motto that I’ve had at this position,” Speight said. “You can’t worry about what’s going on to the right or left of you, and a good way to do that is just to block it out, and that’s what I’ve done. It’s worked for me in the past, and I think it’ll work for me in the future.
“… The older and wiser I get, I guess, the easier it is to just not worry about outside opinions, just worry about the opinions of my teammates, my coaches and myself.”
While that may sound cliché, it may ring true for Speight, who has always placed high importance upon the mental part of the game. He’s worked with a ‘mindfulness’ coach in the past to better harness his, well, mind, and he has also clearly become a vocal leader — a trait Harbaugh finds necessary in his starting quarterback.
“I think the game of football has made more sense the second time around,” Speight said. “But I’ve been saying that there’s younger guys that we’re bringing along, and I think helping lead that way is probably better than where I would’ve been last year.”
He developed a new rhythm physically in the offseason, as well — a diet of eating just “animals and things that grew from the ground” that allowed him to lose 23 pounds.
“I feel a lot quicker coming from under center, being able to finess around the pocket,” Speight said, “and then maybe get more than two or three yards like I did last year.”
Though Speight — a 6-foot-6, prototypical pocket passer — may never look like Lamar Jackson out on the field, it’s clear the physical change, coupled with over six months of rest, have him feeling much better than he did at the end of last year.
“I just feel better, I feel healthier, the game slowed down even more,” Speight said.