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Michael Speer steps in, up for Hiawatha

Rob Winner –
Hiawatha running back Michael Speer (left) during practice in Kirkland, Ill., Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013.
Rob Winner – Hiawatha running back Michael Speer (left) during practice in Kirkland, Ill., Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013.

KIRKLAND – Michael Speer could count on one hand the number of varsity carries he had in 2012.

The Hiawatha junior running back spent a lot of time as a running back for the junior varsity last year, but was a backup to Dakotah Quimby and Nick Doolittle, getting only three carries in varsity games.

With Doolittle returning and quarterback Mike Mercado also getting a large share of the carries, Speer wasn’t expected to be a major contributor on offense. But just minutes into the second quarter of Hiawatha’s Week 1 game against Mooseheart, Doolittle left with an injury and Speer was forced into action.

“I didn’t know what we were going to get out of him,” Hiawatha coach Sean Donnelly said of Speer.

Speer ran for only eight yards in Hiawatha’s 45-6 loss that week. He was hesitant, stringing too many runs outside instead of hitting the hole opened by the Hawks’ offensive line.

“When I was just put in the game for the first time running I was kind of a little cautious about how I do play it right, don’t drop the ball and looking all over,” Speer said.

Speer and the coaching staff went back and looked at the tape the next week. His teammates, including Doolittle, helped him through the learning process and the next Friday against North Shore Country Day produced dramatically different results.

“Something clicked in him,” Donnelly said. “He started trusting. He’s been running with a purpose since the second quarter of Week 2.”

In the three games since his debut, Speer has run for 245 yards and two touchdowns. He’s averaging 4.6 yards a carry and is seventh in the area in rushing.

Speer’s play is only one of the reasons for Hiawatha’s three-game winning streak. The Hawks have been hurt by other injuries, including starters Allen Letterer and Ben Watson, but their depth has come through.

During the winning streak, Hiawatha has averaged 33 points a game. The Hawks scored 30-plus points only once last season, and Mercado credited Speer’s quick development as a big boost.

“He’s got that no-fear mentality and he’s not afraid to get hit,” Mercado said. “It’s incredible.”

Donnelly is hoping his team will be fully healthy later in the season as the Hawks search for their first playoff berth since 1987. But so far they’ve been helped by former backups like Speer.

“I trust my linemen now and I know they can block, what they need to do so I can get where I need to go,” Speer said. “I’ve just become a lot more comfortable and I feel like I can handle the situation.” 

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