‘Speed’ing to the top: UC senior named Mr. Football finalist

‘Speed’ing to the top: UC senior named Mr. Football finalist
Colton Speed has been busy making up for lost time.
And he’s obviously turned a lot of heads doing so.
Union City’s standout quarterback — who elected not to play football his sophomore and junior seasons — was named one of three finalists today for Class A’s Mr. Football Back of the Year Award.
Speed becomes just the sixth UCHS player to be named a finalist for the prestigious honor, first presented in 1985 and now sponsored by the Tennessee Titans. Of the previous five Tornadoes who were among the final three, only Mario McElrath — the Class 2A recipient in 2000 — was selected as a winner.
Speed is joined on the 2008 Class A Back of the Year finalist list by South Pittsburg’s David Jones and Manassas’ James King, both of whom are running backs.
The winners of Mr. Football Back of the Year and Lineman of the Year for the five Division I and two Division II classifications will be announced at a Dec. 1 luncheon at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in Murfreesboro.
Coaches and media members from across the state nominated players for the honors, with a panel of nine sports writers who represented the state geographically then meeting to cast ballots and determining the winners.
The electrifying Union City QB, who has led a resurgent Twister program to 10 straight victories and into the second round of the playoffs, joins Josh Johnson (1999), Scottie Hayslett (1997), Chris Smith (1993) and Marcus Lewis (1992), all of whom — along with McElrath — represented the Purple and Gold as finalists for Mr. Football accolades.
After not playing a down since his freshman year, Speed rejoined the Tornado program in the offseason and rushed for 1,321 yards and 26 touchdowns during the regular season. His cumulative total yardage was more than 1,900 yards with his 605 passing yards figured in, and he had a hand in 33 TDs prior to the locals beginning postseason play this past Friday.
Speed rushed for more than 100 yards in six of UC’s 10 regular season games and for two or more touchdowns in seven outings. Both fast and elusive, he posted a 310-yard, six-touchdown performance against Lake County, ran for 202 yards and three scores vs. Bruceton and smoked Greenfield for five touchdowns on just 10 carries.
The epitome of a big-play artist, half of his 26 regular season TDs came on runs of 25 yards or longer.
Most impressive is the route Speed took to stardom in his senior season.
As a promising freshman, he teased UC faithful of greatness as a running back and defensive back on the Tornadoes’ 2005 Class A state runnerup team.
He chose not to play his sophomore and junior campaigns, however, concentrating year-round on his passion for baseball.
When new head coach Darren Bowling was hired last winter, though, he immediately identified Speed as tailor-made for his midline/veer offense that relies on both playmaking and leadership qualities from the signal-caller position.
“Having played against him when he was a freshman when I was at Obion Central, I knew right off the bat who I wanted to run my offense,” Bowling confirmed. “Certainly his athleticism was important, but that he was a leader and his teammates followed him was just as impressive.
“Colton’s such an unselfish kid, too. All he wants to do is win. He’s made a lot of big plays, but he doesn’t care who gets the glory. He’s very complimentary of the offensive line and the running backs and of our defense, too. He’s well-deserving of being a finalist, I believe.”
While maybe his quarterback of choice, Bowling allowed Speed to cut no corners as far as participating in a grueling offseason program that is the foundation of the Tornadoes’ success this season.
Speed rejoined the Union City program over the winter and went through a rigorous offseason weight training with his teammates. He admittedly rediscovered his love for the game and competing on the gridiron.
“I think there’s no doubt he missed the game when he didn’t play,” Bowling added. “He’s so fun-loving and he really embodies the emotions of the game.
“I can only imagine what he could’ve been with two more years in this offense. He truly is something special.”
Speed’s elite company as a finalist includes Jones, who has led South Pittsburg to the state title a year ago and has the Pirates unbeaten and ranked No. 1 this season, and King, the No. 4 rusher in all of Memphis with 1,427 yards and 13 TDs during the regular season.
Jones has actually played sparingly in the second half of games this season as SP has regularly been far ahead by halftime. He averaged almost nine yards-per-carry with 856 yards and 18 touchdowns during the regular season and also was a stalwart on defense at linebacker.
Rural West Tennessee had a handful of finalists in other classifications for Mr. Football Back of the Year honors including USJ quarterback Jake Overbey in 2A, Henry County standout Marsalis Teague and Hardin County’s Will Gillcrist, both quarterbacks, in 4A, and Camden’s Danny Kim, who is in the hunt for the Kicker of the Year.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at mhutch@ucmessenger.com.

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