Finding Perspective and Peace
His head was swimming from the anesthesia-induced nausea.
Monitors hummed in the hospital room that seemed to be spinning uncontrollably.
His surgically repaired right collarbone, secured by a four-inch metal plate and eight screws, throbbed painfully despite the medication coursing through his veins.
For Wilton Speight, these were unfamiliar sensations, but they in no way compared to his feeling of disappointment when he considered the opportunities he would miss and the difficult rehab he faced in the ensuing months.
Less than a week earlier, the Collegiate School junior was prominent on the radar screens of big-time college football coaches who were impressed by his size, strong arm, leadership skills, and promise.
Now, on this September day in 2011, thanks to a late-game mishap the previous Friday afternoon, his athletic future was on hold, and in its place loomed a period of self-analysis that would force him to redefine his priorities.
“It was an option-read,” Speight said of that fateful play late in Cougars’ opener, a 34-19 victory over Trinity Episcopal. “I got past the defensive end and linebackers. There was one man between me and the goal line. I tried to jump over him. As I was in the air, he caught my feet, which flipped me over. I tried to break the fall with my elbow, but (the impact) shot my shoulder up.
“I walked to the sideline hoping it was a stinger. (Athletic trainer) Shannon (Winston) moved it around. She felt crunches. I heard it crunch. My collarbone was broken in two places.
“Looking back, I probably didn’t have to make that play, but when you’re competitive, it’s hard to just step out of bounds.”
While Speight had complete confidence in his surgeon, Dr. “Moose” Herring, he knew that fulfilling his dreams was now dependent upon his own perseverance, strength of will, and self-discipline.
In the aftermath, his mother Martha had counseled him that God has a plan for everyone, that events in our lives occur for a reason, and that one of life’s mysteries is that His plan isn’t always readily apparent.
Speight listened dutifully, he said he understood, but more than once, he questioned, “Why me?”
As he fought through the fog that day at Henrico Doctors Parham, his cell phone vibrated on the table next to his bed announcing a text message.
He reached over, blinked to focus his eyes, and in the dim light read the sender’s name: Jacob Rainey.
That singular and unexpected moment truly altered his perspective and provided the initial impetus on his long road to recovery.
For several years, Speight and Rainey, the Woodberry Forest quarterback, had been friends. They’d attended the same camps, roomed together, shared common goals and aspirations.
In the Tigers’ scrimmage against Flint Hill a week earlier, Rainey took a hit that severely damaged his right knee and severed an artery. As a result, doctors were forced to amputate part of his damaged leg.
“I woke up after my surgery thinking, ‘This is terrible,’” Speight continued, “but Jacob’s text really hit home.
“His life had changed forever, I’m complaining about my banged up wing that would be fine in a couple of months, and he’s saying, ‘How’s your arm? I hope you’re feeling better.’ I could either sit there and complain or do something about it.”
Speight soon began an intensive physical therapy regimen.
He returned to action in late October, played well in the Cougars’ victory over Norfolk Academy, but, alas, suffered a partial left-knee MCL tear in the finale against St. Christopher’s.
Though surgery wasn’t required, he missed basketball season but used his time for more rehab and to prepare for lacrosse season..
Then, early in the Cougars’ first outing against Georgetown Prep, misfortune struck again.
“I had the ball and came around the cage,” he recalled. “When I shot, a defensive player brought his stick down on my (right) shoulder.
“He hit it hard enough that the part of the bone not covered by the plate broke off the metal.
“It was a clean break, thankfully. Dr. Herring was able to open it back up and put in a six-inch plate with eight screws that covers my whole collarbone.
“It will definitely prevent anything from breaking up there again.”
Healthy, finally, and re-focused by late spring, Speight traveled to Santa Barbara, CA, to work with quarterback coach Steve Clarkson.
He then hit the out-of-state camp circuit – Southern Cal, UCLA, Cal-Berkeley, Auburn, Alabama, West Virginia – where coaches watched him throw, assessed his skills, and refined the intricacies of his technique such as release point, footwork, and off-arm positioning.
In the meantime, he “reclassified” as a junior and will graduate in June 2014.
During his sophomore football season, Speight completed 176 of 337 passes for 2,636 yards and 20 touchdowns for a team that finished 6-5 but rallied in November and reached the VISAA championship game. The Richmond Times-Dispatch
named him second team All-Metro.
Before injuries temporarily derailed his plans, he appeared to be next in the line (behind Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks and Virginia’s Jake McGee) of stellar quarterbacks who have flourished in Collegiate’s offensive system.
The expectations might have seemed daunting, but Speight never flinched then and doesn’t flinch now.
“I’m not trying to be the next Russell or Jake,” he said. “I’m just trying to be Wilton Speight. If I’m mentioned in the same category some day, that’s great. If not, that’s OK too.
“I just want to be my own person and leave a positive impact on the school.”
So Speight begins his second junior season, a year older, much wiser, and more philosophical but no less passionate and dedicated.
“Before,” he said, “I got caught up a little bit in the quarterback spotlight.
“Going into my first junior season, I didn’t think anything would really bother me.
“After hitting rock bottom, I’m definitely a better person and very fortunate with the situation I’m in.
“This is kind of an open-ended story that hasn’t really been finished yet.”
-- Weldon Bradshaw