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In Focus: Tariq Speights Couldn't Have Pictured What his Career Looks Like
He was once a leading tackler for the team, but that's not what Speights is most proud of during his time at Eastern Michigan.
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Tariq Speights’ new career will start in Utah. After four years in Ypsilanti, he drove with his girlfriend from the Great Lakes State to Salt Lake City where he’ll be the assistant director for the Utes’ creative video department.
Speights was a linebacker and two-year starter for Eastern Michigan’s football team. In 2020 he was second on the team in tackles. In 2021, he was the team’s leader in that category. In 2022, his playing time dipped after the team brought on Chase Kline and Joe Sparacio from Michigan State and Boston College, respectively. While Speights certainly wanted to have more playing time than what he got in his final season, he still played a big role with his team as it captured its first bowl victory in 35 years.
Now that he’s done with college, Speights is taking the “going pro in something else” route. His first job out of college will completely involve something he never took a college class for. Speights, who shot photos for this newsletter at a couple of EMU men’s basketball games this season, landed his first full-time job by having a huge passion for telling stories behind a camera.
While he was on the second cross-country move of his life, Speights was kind enough to answer my call. Below is the Q&A that we shared last week. Some of Speights’ responses were edited for length and clarity.
When did you take this position in Utah?
I accepted this job before the bowl game. I had about three rounds of interviews and accepted the job in the last week of November. Over the last month, obviously doing football stuff, finishing my MBA, then over the break, just, getting stuff ready to head up there.
What did you study when you were in college?
I graduated with a bachelor's in business administration and have my master's in business administration.
At first, I was a criminal justice major, and very quickly switched that. When I went back home to junior college, I switched it to business. My end goal is to own a production company, so I thought having the business acumen and knowledge of that would help out down the road when I end up owning my own production company.
You studied business, but visual arts is clearly your passion. How did that fit into your life?
Growing up, my parents had a still Nikon camera at our house. My mom used to take pictures of my brother and I when we were playing sports, so that was just the family camera. I'd play around with it and just trying to take pictures with it, had no idea what I was doing with it.
In sixth grade, we learned how to use iMovie and I decided that I was going to do our sixth-grade promotion video. I borrowed a camera from our school and put together a video on iMovie, and that was my first experience with shooting something, editing something, putting it all together, and burning it on a CD. I was still kind of doing a little bit of it in seventh grade and eighth grade, but I kind of got really tunnel-visioned on football so I didn't really explore that from seventh grade on.
I had a video production class my freshman year of high school, and our video production team there was super awesome and whatnot, but it conflicted with a lot of our practices and my football obligations. If I'm committed to something, it has my 110% attention and focus while I'm doing that. Football was that for me, so I ended up dropping out of that video production class because I just didn't have time to do it with football. So I dropped that class in ninth grade, and basically my whole entire high school career I really didn't get into that. I'd compile my highlights and make a little highlight reel at the end of the year.
After I graduated, I got offered as a preferred walk-on at Northern Arizona, but the coach who offered me didn't really have the pool to offer (that spot) to me. So when I got up there, what I was promised wasn't really promised. I was in the same dorm as all the football players, but I wasn't on the football team. I got to know them, we were all friends and whatnot, but I wasn't on the team. Three of us decided to make a YouTube channel, and I was really the only one with camera experience.
My buddy had a camera that he had bought or his parents had bought, so we'd go around, do interviews on campus, and that sort of re-ignited my creative spirit I guess. And I wasn't playing football at the time so I had really nothing else to do other than that and go to school. Once I decided to leave NAU and go to the junior college in my hometown and play there, I kind of got back into the stuff.
My dad, for this entire time I'm focused on football, always said, like, 'You have something with this, you should really try and explore this more." I always shrugged him off for all those years because I was so focused on football and that was my main goal and all that stuff. Anyways, I move back to my childhood house to live with my parents and I'm going to school at the College of the Canyons. I got a job to pay for some of my classes and I finally bought a camera for the first time. My teammates wanted pictures for their Instagrams and I had an actual camera instead of just an iPhone camera, so my teammates would always tell me to bring my camera to school. We just started taking pictures and I would always bring my camera.
I had a connection with one of my friends who's a music artist, named Maka. He asked me if I could shoot one of his first concerts. It was my first time shooting any type of event. I took pictures, shot video, edited things together and sent that to him. That was my first gig, but it wasn't paid. He was just asking for a favor and I wanted to learn how to do this stuff, so I went and did that. He introduced me to Kalan.FrFr and invited me to shoot his birthday party/concert, and that was my first paid gig. That was kind of the start, everything catapulted from there.
Without having taken any visual arts classes, what has your learning process been like to improve how you do things?
The difficult thing is that I've never taken a photography or videography or editing class, or a formal one. All of this has been self-taught. It's been long nights, staying up until 2 a.m., watching videos, and being annoying to my other buddies who are further along with questions. My dad always tells me to be a sponge with any relationship or any experience I have to soak up all the information I can.
It's been difficult, at least at first, and I'm still going through stuff now even though I'm a little bit further along in my journey. Just having the willingness to be vulnerable and ask questions about stuff I don't know, and just to look stuff up online because there's so much information out there. For me it's been trial and error. It's been trying something, completely failing at it, and then just saying "OK, I'm going to fail better at this."
The most interesting thing about this is just having the vulnerability to ask questions and be okay with not knowing the answer right away and having the willingness to try to find someone who will figure out the solutions.
Who have you leaned on or looked up to for inspiration through all of this?
The two people who have really been big pillars for me in trying to figure out and navigate this whole journey were actually both at NAU my freshman year: Brandon Lawless and Jay Ford. They've been great mentors to me. Any questions I have, they respond right away. Jumped on Facetime calls with both of them for them to give me advice. For them to have the willingness to look at my work and be transparent about what I did well or what I need to improve on. Both of them are pretty far in their careers. Brandon works for the NFL and he's a creative director for a brand. Jay's basically doing what I would want to do down the line which is a travel videographer and photographer. He travels all over the world seeing new experiences, and shoots for different companies. He understands what stories need to be told and he's so great at capturing them. I would say those are two people I look up to in this industry and have been great supporters of my journey.
The title you’ve branded yourself with is calling yourself a visual storyteller. Why is that detail so important to you?
Nowadays the equipment that's out there and available, if you have the funds to buy it, you can get a really nice camera and take a really solid, crisp image, or even get a nice video camera and you can get a really high-quality looking video. People's iPhones right now are basically equivalent to some cinema cameras out there right now. That said, anybody can take a nice-looking picture or video. But I'm a visual storyteller because I try to figure out what story needs to be told. You can take a really nice picture, but are you telling a story with that picture? You could do a really nice video in 4K and all that, but what story's being told if you're just pointing your camera at somebody? I try to challenge myself figuring out what angles to shoot from, which focal lens to shoot with, and what story, to use a sports example, what story needs to be told on a College Gameday for a football game? People can make hype videos but my favorite thing about videography is capturing emotion.
Gymnastics is my favorite sport to shoot because it's all about emotion. Whether they fail at the stunt or they complete it, their whole routine is about emotion. That's my favorite part about this creative space is being able to capture emotion.
What’s the difference between a nice-looking picture and one that tells a story?
When you watch a video or when you look at a photo, at least for me, I want it to be a 4-D experience. I want you to feel the experience in that photo. For instance, there's this video I just shot at Eastern's last gymnastics meet right before the bowl game. One of the athletes was on the bar, she had just landed her stunt. The emotion that came from her landing it and her getting so excited, then her teammates getting excited for her. When you watch that video, you feel excited for her like you were in that moment.
Your college career was very busy. How would you sum up your time at EMU, and what was it like to finish things with a bowl victory?
My time at Eastern was way more than I ever thought it was going to be. I went there thinking that everything that I was going to be remembered for everything I did on the field. Being a two-year starter and being a leading tackler on the team, I'm still extremely proud about those, but everything I did outside of football is the stuff I'm super proud of. I'm proud of creating a Black student-athlete association. I'm super proud of our voting campaign, the marches that we did, especially during the murder of George Floyd and the reaction of the whole community with that. That's the stuff my name's going to be associated with. The stuff that I did with football, while I'm still proud of it and that's why I went there, I'm so blessed that I got a full experience and it wasn't just for what I did on the football field. Being an undersized linebacker — not the fastest, not the tallest, not the strongest — and being able to accomplish some of the things that I did, I was super grateful I was in a position to do that.
Super grateful for all of my coaches and teammates. I'm super appreciative of all the relationships I've made along the way. The bowl game, that was awesome. The whole experience was the cherry on top to go out bowl game champions. The program's in great hands with the people who are still there. I see that now being the foundation, or the floor, is just winning bowl games. Now it's just about winning MAC Championships. I'm excited to see what the guys accomplish.
After you were a two-year starter and led the team in tackles in 2021, your playing time took a backseat when two transfers came in. I’m wondering how what all played out through your perspective?
I'm not a fool. I know that as coaches, their job is put the best players, or the best combination of players, on the field to be successful. If they're doing their job correctly, you're always trying to find the better option. I didn't think it was going to happen the way it did. I'm an ultra-competitor, I'm always thinking that when I'm at my best, I'm the best option. That didn't end up happening. But the culture in our room, as linebackers, it's the job of the oldest guy(s) in the room to get the new guy(s) up to speed with everybody else. Kobie Beltram and Terry Myrick took me under their wings when I got here to teach me the system, and that's basically what's done, that's the culture of our room. And these are guys you're competing for playing time with, so it's a very unselfish room. As soon as Chase (Kline) and Joe (Sparacio) got here, myself and Luke (Cameron) were one of the first people to meet them and get them up to speed with our system and whatnot. I didn't think it was going to happen the way it did, but I'm a team player.
Like I told coach Neathery in a conversation, I want us to be ultra-successful. I want me to be the reason we're ultra-successful, but if for some reason I'm not that, obviously I'll put the team first and make sure the team's good. At the same time, I want to be sure I'm the one who's going to put the team in a better situation to win.
It was a weird year, especially starting the last two years, but seeing Chase and Joe succeed (and Luke, etc.) knowing how much work they put into their craft, and knowing how many hours of film we worked on and watched together, I was so excited to see them succeed at the level that they did. When my name was called this year, I did what I had to do. I was still playing at the level of a starter. I knew what I was capable of in my playing days, so always being ready when my name was called. But there's no animosity in that room, even with the younger guys. Like I say before each of our games and every time when we break: We're all gonna eat, just be ready to go.
Do you think that helped you lean into chasing visual arts after graduation, or do you think you would’ve still gone through the upcoming NFL Draft process if you would’ve been a third-year starter?
As an undersized guy, I was going to have to go through red tape, jump through hoops to get an opportunity like I had to do to get to the D1 level. Over the last three years, I've kind of decided that the visual stuff was what I was going to do after I was through with football anyway.
I don't think it was directly because of how this year went. I think it may have played a part, but it was the right thing for me to do for myself, my family, and some of the relationships I've made to step away from the game. I talked about it with my dad. I feel like I maxed out my opportunity to be a collegiate athlete. Not just for what I did on the field, but everything I did around it. It's still hard, I just recently made the decision obviously. I'm super excited for the next chapter and super excited for everything I accomplished while I was playing football as well.