By W.G. Ramirez
Perhaps it was a wake-up call.
Watching some of his fellow seniors sign letters-of-intent to play college football, Speaks was – metaphorically speaking – silent.
Salah Boyce and Devon Turner committed to the University of Mary in North Dakota, while Lonnie Sharpe and Anthony Smith announced they were headed to Victor Valley College, Calif. And yet the two-way player who led the Aggies in receiving yards and ranked second on the team in rushing yards appeared to be going nowhere.
“I was stressing for a minute, but I had to think to myself ‘you can’t have everything,’” said Speaks, a 6-foot, 185-pound monster who finished last season with 126 receiving yards and 676 rushing yards. “I went through a three-week depression, as if I wasn’t going to make it. Not signing, that feeling like all the hard work I put in, then you get to this stage, and boom – nothing!”
But Speaks knows he is better than that, and is confident he can compete to play at the next level. Thus, upon being accepted to UNLV last week, he announced he will attempt to walk-on with the football Rebels in the fall.
“I got to a point where I thought to myself ‘I waited too long,’ then I thought to myself: ‘UNLV, why not?’” said Speaks, who ranked fifth on the team in scoring with 48 points. “I had to think about what was best for me overall and I knew I could stay here, afford in-state tuition and have a chance to walk-on. This happening is a true blessing.”
Speaks’ story reeks of the same one former Cimarron-Memorial standout Tim Hasson played out at UNLV.
Hasson played in every game as a Rebel, after taking advantage of the opportunity to walk on, earning his spot on the team and becoming a defensive leader by his senior season, last year.
“Tim is a great story, a great example for young players coming into college,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said last fall prior to the season-opener at Minnesota. “He showed up here as a walk-on wide receiver and three weeks later he was actually playing in a game as an outside linebacker.”
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Speaks succeed at either level, as he starred on both sides of the ball for the Aggies. He finished his senior season with a pair of 100-yard games, which is significant since coach Dan Barnson had eight running backs to choose from in just about every game. He also led team in rushing in three games, including a 96-yard effort against eventual state champion Bishop Gorman in the playoffs. On defense, Speaks ranked eighth on the team with 36 tackles and was second on the team with two interceptions.
Hauck, who is prohibited from speaking about walk-on players, opened spring practice Monday at Rebel Park, looking to carryover the momentum from last season’s run to a New Year’s Day bowl game last season. The fifth-year Rebels coach has repeatedly said he looks for locals, even though most standouts are eager to head out of town for their college experience.
“Our philosophy in recruiting is to start with local guys and then move on from there,” Hauck said last fall. “The hardest guys sometimes, it seems like to convince that UNLV and Vegas are great places, are the Vegas guys. We’ve got guys from all over the country and all over the world right now and guys have come because they think this is a great place and has some potential to be good and good for them.”
Nevertheless, Hauck is a staunch believer that hometown players – like Hasson – tend to thrive.
“I think it’s a big deal, and I think it’s more prevalent in football than other sports,” Hauck said. “We’ve got guys from all over town here, and they all feel strongly about their high school. You represent your team and your school and to a degree the state you live in. I think it’s great when guys are passionate about that representation. We’re going to keep working hard on the local guys and hopefully we can get our share.”
Don’t be surprised if Hauck’s next great local standout is someone whose talent ‘Speaks’ volumes on the field.