Michigan QB Wilton Speight prepared to start in opener

Mark Snyder
Detroit Free Press
Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight carries the ball during the NCAA college football team's spring game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., Friday, April 1, 2016.

Wilton Speight didn’t want to say it.

He knew he wasn’t supposed to say it.

But as Michigan’s quarterback race winds to its final days, Speight is acting like he will be this team’s starting quarterback, just as he has for the past five months.

“I feel good,” he said Friday when asked if he thought he would be the starter when the season opens next Saturday against Hawaii. “I feel very, very good about this whole situation and being able to lead this offense. But it’s coach’s decision and we’ll see what happens.”

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If it were anyone else other than Jim Harbaugh, then the player would have already been told, if not the team and the public also. Conventional football wisdom dictates: make it public, give the player some confidence.

But, as Speight said, trying to read the situation is a waste of time.

“I’ve got a feel now and everyone has a feel and again, it’s coach’s decision,” he said. “Not many people know what goes on in coach Harbaugh’s mind. He’s one of a kind. You just kind of wait and see what he has.”

John O'Korn, left, and Wilton Speight at 2016 Michigan football media day.

The redshirt sophomore is battling redshirt junior John O’Korn, who has far more experience with a year and a half of starts at Houston, and redshirt junior Shane Morris, who has a pair of starts his freshman and sophomore years at Michigan.

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The other two insisted Friday they’re in the race as well.

But Speight promised he’s not counting reps or measuring himself against them. He’s working against his own ideal.

With the decision potentially making or breaking U-M’s season, Harbaugh may see Speight checking the boxes.

A player who moves the team, doesn’t make mistakes and processes the game quickly. It may be a complicated position, but to Harbaugh it’s not a complicated decision.

After nearly 20 years as a high-level quarterback and another 15 coaching the position, he knows what he’s looking for, especially off the field.

Speight spent this off-season preparing to fit that mold.

He put the brakes on his golf game, claiming he played far less than the past two summers, when he usually hit the course at every free moment. (Though he’ll still drive you crazy, a three or four handicap last year after backing off his game — still shooting a 74 with his father this summer.)

There were fewer trips home to Virginia and more to California to work with his longtime guru Steve Clarkson and renowned pitching coach Tom House, a Tom Brady mentor.

Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight.

Speight committed to the position entering spring, when he took a slight lead, and especially after it.

“The spring game ended April 1 at 9 p.m. and April 2 was, 'let’s figure out this playbook, let’s figure out why the coaches are calling this play,' ” Speight said. “Not ‘ok, they called this play so I need to go there.’ He called this play because of this defense we’re going against. That’s an everyday thing, from April 2 to Aug. 5. Over every play, every look and every scheme and that helped a lot.”

As a result, the cliché came true. The game slowed down.

He’ll watch himself run the same play from last year’s film and instantly recall the blur, the offense and game spinning around him.

Then he’ll realize the same play this fall and be finding open receivers before they break free, anticipating because he knows the playbook so well.

One of Speight’s measures to motivate himself was figuring out the role of everyone on offense and their intent. That way, he’s able to direct everyone, even during the running game, not just fill his job.

But Speight insists he doesn’t need the attaboy from Harbaugh. He’ll be ready Saturday, regardless if he gets crowned beforehand.

“I don’t expect him to,” Speight said. “You get the sense. Amara Darboh doesn’t need coach to say you’re a really good wide receiver. It’s known he’s a great wide receiver. Jake Butt doesn’t need to be told he’s an All-American tight end every day, he knows he’s an All-American tight end. (Even) as we get closer to the game, you don’t need to hear it.”

So when he does, it’ll just be what he has always expected.

Michigan football captains: DL Chris Wormley, TE Jake Butt

Contact Mark Snyder: Follow him on Twitter @mark__snyder.

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