St. Francis de Sales High School football coach Dick Cromwell has fond memories of Brandon Speweik.
Speweik, who grew up in Oregon, was the Knights' starting quarterback and a team captain his senior year in 2004, when he led the team to the state playoffs.
"He was a very physical player," Cromwell said. "He was strong and fast for a quarterback, and he ran the option very well. He had a cannon for an arm and he was a good student."
Speweik threw for more than 500 yards and was St. Francis' second-leading rusher (368 yards) as a senior. His 10 rushing touchdowns and 60 points led the team, which lost to Canton GlenOak in the first round of the playoffs.
As a senior, Speweik was on the Knights' track team and competed in the pole vault, the 200-meter dash and the 4x100 and 4x200 relay. St. Francis won its first, and only, City League title that year.
By June 2005, Speweik had made up his mind that he wanted to play football in college. The University of Toledo's quarterbacks coach was Rob Spence, and the two had built a strong relationship.
"I knew Rob Spence and I made some visits to Toledo," Speweik recalled. "That was the safe bet. I never really intended to play there, I just thought Spence was a good coach for me. Late into that spring he up and left Toledo and he called me from Clemson University and said he wanted me to come down there. I made a visit on the fly and I loved what I saw."
Speweik said the coach who replaced Spence at UT called and tried to get him to play at UT, but Speweik had made his decision - he was going to play for Spence at Clemson, located in Clemson, S.C.
"I always wanted to go away for school in the first place," Speweik said. "All my friends went to UT and it would have been the safe choice. Going down there (to Clemson) was more competitive and I liked Rob, so that's what I did."
Clemson is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, which, competition-wise, is a big step up from the Mid-American Conference.
"Brandon always felt he could compete at the Division I level," said Speweik's mother, Mary. "From sixth grade, his dream was to play at a Division I school. He definitely had the athleticism to play at a Division I school."
Spence spoke with Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden about Speweik's potential, and Bowden accepted Speweik as preferred walk-on. That meant that Speweik would be on the football team, but he had to pay most of his own tuition.
"Tommy Bowden had to write a letter to the president of Clemson asking to bring Brandon in," Mary Speweik said. "Spence was allowed to ask for one preferred walk-on. We still have, to this day, a copy of the letter that Tommy Bowden wrote to the president of Clemson. It's very hard to get into Clemson."
Speweik, who graduated in December with a 3.4 GPA and a degree in marketing, said he was in South Carolina almost year-round.
"I had like three weeks a year off to come home," he said. "It was definitely neat because I had never been down south. They definitely have a very strong culture. They're very proud of being from the south. Being a northerner down there, they're not mean, but my friends who are southerners gave me a hard time.
"The university pretty much is the town. The city stops when school is out of session. The town is abandoned in the summer and it picks up in the fall, and everybody knows everybody. It had a small-town feel and I really enjoyed it."
Speweik (6-1, 205) redshirted as a freshman because the Tigers already had Charlie Whitehurst returning at quarterback. In fact, Clemson had several quarterbacks on the roster who were older and more experienced than Speweik.
Speweik never did earn a full football scholarship, but he became an important member of the team as the scout team quarterback.
"I wasn't getting beaten up or anything," Speweik said. "I liked going up against the first-team defense. It was good to have good plays and have good passes and make big plays. We just wanted to do our best. The odds were stacked against us, but when we looked good, we looked good. It was good incentive to do well. I thought I did a pretty good job."
Speweik, 22, dressed for every Tigers home game and he got to travel with the team to play at Florida State and Virginia his senior year.
Ironically, Spence is no longer at Clemson. When Bowden resigned after the Tigers' sixth game last season, Davo Sweeney took over as head coach and Spence was out of a job.
During his senior year, Speweik met Jessica Wilson and the two are now engaged and living in Queens, N.Y., where Speweik works for marketing firm Ansible Mobile.
Although he never got to play in a game at Clemson, Speweik, the older brother of Cardinal Stritch basketball standout Liz Speweik, said he wouldn't change a thing.
"I have no regrets whatsoever," he said. "I'll miss the work and the preparation for the games and the strict regimen we were on. I took pride in being the strongest and fastest quarterback at Clemson. Even when I wasn't starting, I still wanted to be one of the best in some aspects, whether I got on the field or not. I really liked the camaradarie."