By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (August 12, 2015) — EJ Speed doesn’t care what position he plays, as long as he can help Tarleton State win football games.
Speed played quarterback and receiver at North Crowley High School, earning Division I recruiting attention. He has a five-minute highlight video on YouTube here, showing him using superior size, strength and speed to make light work of opposing defenses.
Watching the video, you would never guess Speed would find himself on the other side of the ball.
As a defensive end no less.
“I look at myself as a pure athlete, capable and willing of playing any position. I believe in (head coach Cary Fowler) and the Tarleton State coaching staff, and anywhere they put me I’m going to give 100 percent to help our team win,” said the redshirt freshman as he checked in for the start of preseason camp at Tarleton Wednesday.
Speed spent his redshirt year acclimating himself to college life and bulking up in the Tarleton Athletic Performance weight room under the guidance of master strength coach Rod Cole. Listed at 6-3, 185 as a senior at North Crowley, Speed is now 6-4, 220.
“If you look at the great defensive ends nowadays, they’re long and lean and can run and make plays all over the field,” said Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler. “When I look at EJ, that’s what I see. He went to work with Coach Cole and his staff and they took a dang wide receiver and made a great defensive end out of him.”
And if his spring ball performance is any indication, Speed is ready to become a star in the Lone Star Conference at his new position. He drew lightning quick whistles as coaches scrambled to protect quarterbacks from his relentless pass rush, he covered receivers in the flat and he made plays against the run.
“We haven’t even gotten him in a game yet and I already think he’s as good as any defensive player I’ve ever coached,” said Fowler, who became defensive coordinator at Midwestern State in 2002, took the same role at Tarleton in 2008 and was promoted to head coach in 2010. “I’ve coached a lot of great football players in this league, but there haven’t been many with his ability.”
But before Speed can be great, he has to be healthy. He reported for camp on crutches with a cast on his left foot, still recovering from surgery to repair what is known as a “Jones” fracture, described by one licensed athletic trainer as “a fracture of the fifth metatarsal, which is the outside bone of the foot.”
Speed said he would be seeing team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bill Evans of Cross Timbers Orthopaedics Wednesday afternoon in hopes of soon having his cast removed. He will miss all of preseason camp, but could be available in time for the September 12 season opener against Findlay (Ohio) at Tarleton Memorial Stadium.
“That’s the main goal is to be ready a week before the first game,” Speed said. “It could be a little sooner or a little later, but that’s the main goal is to be ready to hit the field with my teammates for that first game.”
Speed isn’t the only offensive player to change positions over the offseason, as Cody Burtscher of Glen Rose is making the transition from running back to linebacker. Stephenville product Chase Varnado, one of five Tarleton players named to the USA Football Network Preseason All-America Team, is a stalwart at defensive end but will also play some at linebacker this fall.
Fowler assumed the role of defensive coordinator himself following the resignation of Henry Cofer, now head coach at Dallas Kimball High School. Fowler immediately went to work making moves to improve a defense that surrendered 448.5 yards and 33.8 points per game last season.
Speed knows vast improvement not something that happens over night.
“We have a lot of work to put in on defense, but that’s what we’re here for is to go to work and get better,” Speed said. “We know Coach Fowler and all our coaches are working hard, and we have to work hard, too.”
And get healthy.
“This is just a small set back is all,” he said as he pointed to his injured foot. “I’ve had great rehabilitation from Coach Cole and the training staff and I just can wait to get back on the field and help my team.”