GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Panthers find themselves in a very different situation than they did last season.
During the inaugural season, Michigan was 1-6 through seven games and was basically out of the playoff picture. This time around, they control their own destiny at 3-4 and are in second place in the North Division. If they win their remaining three games, they will clinch a spot in the playoffs.
The turnaround is thanks in large part to their star defensive end: Breeland Speaks.
Speaks is the only player in the entire spring football league who has won the honor of defensive player of the week twice this season. He’s also the odds-on favorite to take home the yearly award. Something he’s had his eyes on since he first joined the team.
“I kind of went through my whole training with that being my goal,” Speaks said. “I kind of knew I wanted to come up here and try to dominate this league and so far, I’ve been doing pretty well for myself and we’re just going to try and continue with it to be able to go ahead and clinch that final goal.”
Through seven games, Speaks is owning his side of the ball. He has a league-leading seven sacks to go along with 39 tackles and two forced fumbles. His play has even gotten the attention of NFL Hall of Famer Michael Strahan.
The former Giants defensive end has spent many weekends this season retweeting Speaks’ highlights on Twitter praising his play.
“It’s definitely something that I smile at when I saw it,” Speaks said. “It’s amazing to see somebody of his stature to actually give me compliments on my game and that just helps me or pushes me to go that much more harder to get even more compliments from guys like that. It really speaks a lot to the work and effort that I put in.”
Speaks isn’t doing it alone, though. His teammate Frank Ginda is also a defensive player of the week this season and quarterback Josh Love has also been named the offensive player of the week twice, including this past week which ended a four-game losing streak.
“It’s been a bit of a journey,” he said. “A few ups and downs throughout but I feel like we’re starting to put it together within the last few weeks.”
And they will need to continue the strong play in order to make the transformation from one of the worst teams in the USLF last season to a championship contender with just three games left. The Panthers currently have a one-game lead over the New Jersey Generals and Pittsburgh Maulers and are only a game back of the Philadelphia Stars.
If Michigan wins out, they will earn at least a spot in the four-team playoff in Canton, Ohio later this month. Speaks said it won’t be easy, but he has faith as long as his team continues down the right path.
“I think we just got to continue doing what we did this past weekend and just continue to play together as a team,” he said. “Guys doing their jobs, everybody buying into the system and a philosophy that we have here and I think that’s about it. Just guys coming to work every day.”
Speaks and the rest of the Panthers hope to get closer to clinching a playoff berth this Sunday when they take on the New Orleans Breakers in Birmingham, Alabama. Kickoff for that game is slated for 4 p.m.