Speights sets sights on Northern Arizona University

Tariq Speights (10) plans to walk on at Northern Arizona University in the fall. Photo by Dan Watson/The Signal

Recent Valencia High graduate Tariq Speights liked Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff with or without football.

But he was happy to learn this week that his time there will include the sport he played for four seasons with the Vikings, culminating in a first-team All-Foothill League season in 2016.

Speights, a linebacker, announced via Twitter on Monday that he had secured a preferred walk-on spot at NCAA Division 1 FCS Northern Arizona, meaning he’ll have a spot on the team and an opportunity to earn a scholarship down the line.

“I’m very excited,” Speights said Wednesday. “It’s something I’ve been looking forward to since the beginning of freshman year. It’s definitely been one of my goals. It’s awesome after everything, the injury, to still be able to pursue my education and play football at one of the highest levels.”

Speights tore his ACL partway through the 2015 season, necessitating surgery and a long, arduous rehab process. He returned for his senior year, recording 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

Still, he found himself navigating the recruiting process after winter break. Valencia coach Larry Muir reached out to NAU, Speights said, and the school said it would be by in the spring.

Then, one spring day, Speights happened to be working out with the Vikings when NAU’s special teams coordinator stopped by practice.

Speights and the coach exchanged cell numbers, and the rest, really, is history.

Speights will join NAU around Aug. 28, when school starts, he said, and likely play special teams and scout team. There’s a possibility, too, that he could redshirt.

Meanwhile, he’ll be on a campus he fell in love with during an unofficial visit in March.

“When I went up there to visit, a little before football was even a possibility there,” he said, “I loved the campus up there, and the weather is awesome. You get all four seasons.  It’s not super far away, and I immediately felt a connection with the campus when I went up there.”

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