Canyons linebacker Tariq Speights commits to Eastern Michigan

Tariq Speights at COC football practice on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. Dan Watson/The Signal

“Heart over height.”

College of the Canyons football teammates Tariq Speights and Andrew Brito repeated that mantra after being overlooked by scouts because they were deemed undersized.

“I’ve always preached it, another one of my teammates Andrew Brito kind of got overlooked with his height too, and we kind of started the whole thing, heart over height,”  said Speights. “And both of us truly stick by that. I think that a lot of times especially in the recruiting process, people first look at the measurables, how tall, how fast and all that. And you can’t really tell until you see a person, until you talk to a person, you can’t really measure how much heart they have.”

Brito, a 5-foot-10 quarterback, committed to play at the University of Massachusetts back in February.

Now, his fellow 5-foot-10 teammate will also be playing at a Division 1 school, as Speights announced his commitment to Eastern Michigan University via Twitter on Thursday.

“I’m thrilled. I just took a visit this week, Monday through Wednesday and I’m absolutely excited,” Speights said. “Got up there, loved the campus, loved the staff, so yeah, I’m really excited.”

Speights led the Cougars in almost every defensive category including tackles (76), sacks (4) and forced fumbles (2). For his efforts, he was named the Southern California Football Association Defensive Player of the Year in the National League, Northern Division. He was also selected as an All-American.

The Valencia alumnus was the heart and soul of a defense that allowed only 10.5 points a game, ranked No. 1 out of 68 schools in the California Community College Athletic Association.

Speights’ path to a Division 1 school was littered with roadblocks, including suffering a devastating left knee injury and not being able to walk-on at Northern Arizona University.

However, the fierce linebacker used the hardships to motivate him even further, becoming one of the most dominant forces in all of junior college football.

“I think it doesn’t get talked about enough the JUCO route, it tests your love for the game. Especially here, we work all the time, we work harder than anybody else,” Speights said. “And so I think I’ve learned a lot about myself and about how far I’m willing to push myself through my coaches, all my brothers on this team, so it was just really big. I truly learned what work was at the high school level at Valencia and then I learned it again at the JUCO level here, so I’m just excited to get to the next level.”

Speights is going to finish classes at COC in July and join the Eagles in Ypsilanti, Michigan in the summer with an opportunity to start in the fall.

He’s already chosen the number he is going to wear in a tribute to his family.

“Family is everything for me. There’s five of us in our family including me and so when I got an opportunity to pick my number up there, I decided I’m picking five,” he said. “One of the reasons is because that it’s something special to me. We talk about the fist. With our family, and that’s the five of us, my dad talks about how when the fist is closed, it’s at its strongest, and when it’s separated, that’s when it’s at its weakest.

“My family is everything to me. So the fact that I got an opportunity to wear five up there is going to mean everything. It’s going to mean to me that they’re always with me.”

Haley Sawyer contributed to this report.

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