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Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Speck small but mighty on the gridiron

Curtain Call

By Robb Hemmelgarn
St. Henry's football program was splashed throughout plenty of newspaper headlines in 1993 and nearly all shared a common theme.
"Speck" was generally the first word.
More than 20 years have passed since former running back Doug Speck embarrassed opposing defenses with a unique blend of speed and strength, but the St. Henry record books won't forget him anytime soon.
"I don't think you see the same kind of running backs today that were around 15 or 20 years ago with the way most offenses are set up now," said Speck, the 1993 Midwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year. "Today, the athletes who are quicker and more durable are normally playing quarterback and they can both run and throw the ball. I was just a runner."
When high school football programs are in the midst of winning games almost every time they take the field and bring home state championships on a regular basis, there is a certain amount of tolerance for occasionally joking around at practice, and Speck certainly absorbed his share of comments about his height.
At 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds, he simply laughed and nodded when his friends made "short" jokes, and then twenty minutes later, with the pigskin tucked at his side, Speck blasted through those same buddies with the force of a Mack truck.
"My whole life it has been about size," he commented. "I was almost always one of the shortest and smallest kid playing, so I decided pretty quickly that I needed to use it to my advantage. In sports, things are usually about being bigger and stronger, but I knew there was nothing I could do about being a little shorter and never once did I let that get in my way."
Being a running back was in Speck's DNA - his older brother Greg was a 1987 first team All-MAC performer - and he grew up envisioning exactly what he wanted on the gridiron.
"I watched some great running backs at St. Henry like Tony Borgerding, my brother Greg and Greg Gels," he recalled. "They were all very talented and played with passion, and I knew that in order to be successful that was exactly how I needed to play."
After seeing limited varsity action as a freshman in 1990, Speck's moment in the spotlight arrived as a sophomore in 1991, and after rushing for 800 yards and 11 touchdowns, he helped guide the Redskins to a 7-3 overall record.
"When I was a freshman, we had an outstanding team loaded with talent like Bobby Hoying, Kevin Niekamp, Greg Gels, Scott Brunswick and Jeff Hartings," he said. "The sky was the limit for that team, and after they left it was up to the rest of us to carry on what they had started. I don't think many people had high expectations for us when I was a sophomore, but we still had some very good players. We were really young, but we used the success we had as in 1991 as motivation for the following year."
The Redskins picked up their second state championship in three years in 1992, as Speck rushed his way to first team All-MAC status with more than 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns.
"Anytime you win a state title it is a huge deal and something you remember for the rest of your life," Speck explained. "Most of us were just spectators and caught up in the moment when we were freshmen, but winning when we were juniors was a remarkable experience. Anytime you and your friends can achieve something like it, it is truly special."
For his final go-around wearing the Red and White, Speck and company had lofty expectations in 1993.
"Winning two titles in three years gave us a lot of goals for my senior year, but that is how you build a strong program. You keep raising the bar," Speck said. "We lost a lot of talented guys from 1992 like Mark Gels, Tom Hoying, Brad Nietfeld and Matt Liette, but our class was ready to continue what we helped start. We definitely ran a lot my senior year, but I have to say that our quarterback, Brian Schmitz, did a great job in the one year he was a starter. I don't think people give him as much credit as he should get. He made plays when he needed to and kept teams honest. The offensive line was outstanding as well. There were times the holes were so wide open that anyone could have picked up those yards."
The season ended with an 11-1 record and St. Henry's third league title in four years. Speck established himself as the greatest running back in St. Henry history after finishing the campaign with more than 2,500 yards and 27 touchdowns. His career marks of 4,990 yards and 7.65 yards per carry are the most distinguished of several rushing records he still holds at St. Henry, where he was also one of the most prolific return men in school and MAC history.
"I loved playing both running back and returning kicks and punts," said Speck, who earned first team All-Ohio as a senior. "When you are a returner, you are out there on an island and you just get the ball and go. Honestly, I think the hard work was done by the guys up front. They were the ones who have to run with their backs toward the defense while the opponent is going at them full speed. Then to turn around, find their guy, and get the block was tough too; all I had to do was wait and run."
As it turned out, St. Henry's loss to Lehman in the 1993 regional championship was the final time Speck ever took a handoff.
"I got a few calls from some Mid-American Conference schools and smaller, but I would definitely say that my height didn't help in getting a lot of attention," he said.
"I look back though and have absolutely no regrets," he continued. "Sure I would have loved an opportunity to prove college scouts wrong, but I am at peace with that. I am healthy and happy with how it all turned out. I had an opportunity to play at a football powerhouse with all of my friends and enjoyed a lot of success. I played hard every time I touched the ball and left it all out on the field. When you are a high school athlete, there isn't much more you can ask of yourself than that."
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