Looking back on it, Wilton Speight admits his first moment in the driver’s seat last season didn’t go as planned. Then a redshirt freshman, he was the first quarterback off the bench after starter Jake Rudock was injured against Minnesota last Oct. 31, but the offense sputtered on its first two drives with Speight in control of it.
On the third, though, Speight finally found his groove, completing two passes while the Wolverines marched down the field looking to take the lead late in the fourth quarter.
And on a third down at the Minnesota 12-yard line, Speight made the biggest play of his career, threading a pass to fifth-year senior receiver Jehu Chesson for the go-ahead touchdown.
Throughout the offseason, Speight has made it a point of emphasis to build upon his performance against the Golden Gophers. With the starting quarterback job open, he battled against redshirt juniors John O’Korn and Shane Morris during spring practices before pulling ahead and taking snaps with the first team.
Then in the Spring Game, he led his team to a 14-13 victory, accounting for both of his team’s touchdowns.
But Speight hasn’t slowed down since. In fact, he has only worked harder, going out to California to train with private quarterback coach Steve Clarkson alongside other college quarterbacks including Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and UCLA’s Josh Rosen.
He has also continued to train with his team in Ann Arbor, organizing team workouts and 7-on-7 competitions.
“It’s tough with the coaches being out with satellite camps and everything, but talking to coach Fisch on the phone, talking ball and everything with him helps a ton,” Speight said. “He’s got tests we take every week. Then it comes down to how much we can do as a team, player-led, myself and the other quarterbacks organizing 7-on-7 (drills) and workouts. We started back in May, early June.”
His experience in the Minnesota game, in particular, has stuck with him.
“One thing going into that Spring Game was starting fast,” Speight said. “In the Minnesota game, I came in and was a little sloppy at first. That was a big focal point for me for the entire spring, and I never really got to the point I wanted to be until the Spring Game.
“That’s just what I want to build on going into (fall) camp. I want my first play to be a touchdown.”
Speight admits that familiarity with the playbook has been a key component of his progression.
For him, this is the first time since high school that he hasn’t had to learn a new offense heading into the season.
“Seven-on-seven (drills) and stuff seem like they’re in slow motion compared to when I first came in and first started in this offensive system,” Speight said. “It’s slowed down tremendously, and it’s been fun.”
And as he has blossomed on the field, Speight has also tried to lead off of it, drawing upon lessons learned from watching Rudock last year.
“I’m not really the most vocal guy as far as the quarterbacks that are always willing to break down the huddle and have a comment here and there,” Speight said. “I don’t really do that. I try to lead by example and go with the flow and lead by that way. As far as changing any other things, I still do all the optional workouts like I have been (as) a fourth string or second string, just trying to stay consistent the whole time.”
Next up for Speight this summer? Helping the incoming freshmen — most of whom are arriving this month — adjust to life in Ann Arbor.
“We’ve got a bunch of wide receivers coming in, and we’re going to make sure they get adjusted as quickly as possible,” Speight said. “Just doing our best to make sure they’re up to speed and learn the new offense.”