College Sports

Freshman finds good fit with Manatees

BRADENTON — Colton Speed stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 175 pounds.

That doesn’t really matter in baseball, where size isn’t as important as in other team sports.

Yet, Speed didn’t just roam the diamond prior to his arrival this season at State College of Florida.

No, Speed excelled at football in Union City, Tenn.

The second baseman played quarterback in a triple option offense in high school.

He did so well that Speed was a finalist for Tennessee’s Mr. Football award in 2008-09.

But when college came calling, Speed said he was told he was too small for quarterback at the next level and had to switch to cornerback if he wanted to keep playing football.

That’s when Speed, who also played baseball and basketball as a three-sport athlete in high school, opted for America’s pastime.

Spencer Clifft, a fellow Tennessee native and member of the 2009 SCF squad, clued Speed in to the Manatees’ tradition-rich program.

At first, Speed wasn’t playing the infield upon arriving to the Bradenton campus. He said he was playing some left and right field in the early part of the year.

That is, until head coach Tim Hill made a change 16 games into the 2010 campaign that has seen the Manatees return to Grand Junction, Colo., for the school’s first JUCO World Series appearance since 2002.

“They put me at second, and I like it so far,” said Speed, who has played in all 50 games this season. “I mean, I played a little middle infield in high school, a couple games, so it wasn’t totally new to me.”

The shifty footwork Speed developed as a high school quarterback has translated into a successful double-play partnership with shortstop Anthony Figliolia.

The combo helped SCF produce seven double plays during the state tournament, where Figliolia was named the tourney’s most outstanding player.

“Turning the double plays, (Speed) doesn’t have the strongest of arms,” Hill said. “But he has quick hands, and he can throw the ball quick. And he has good footwork. I think being a quarterback in high school, an option quarterback; I think his footwork has really improved a lot at second base, and I think that helped.”

Speed’s footwork isn’t the only skill that’s transferred to baseball.

The smash-mouth, physical nature of football has crept its way into Speed’s game, as the left-handed hitter said he has no regard for his body on the field.

That mindset means he’ll dive for anything, which is a valuable asset to have on the field.

“I know it helps me being tough,” said Speed about his football background with baseball. “I know I have a different attitude that I see ... just, like, go hard and diving all the time.”

Speed also produces on the offensive end.

Despite batting near the bottom of the Manatees’ lineup, Speed is hitting .302 for the season with 30 runs scored, and he sports a .400 on-base percentage.

Add his perfect 9-for-9 on stolen base attempts, and it’s no wonder Speed hit the ground running during his first year at SCF, just like he did as a high school quarterback.