WMU defensive leader fighting for starting spot

Buffalo quarterback Grant Rohach is sacked by Western Michigan linebacker Robert Spillane during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 in Kalamazoo, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Despite leading the Western Michigan football team in tackles last season, linebacker Robert Spillane is fighting for a starting spot.

Shortly after former head coach PJ Fleck decided to leave the Broncos to become Minnesota’s head coach, Spillane announced he would be seek a transfer. The 6-foot-2 linebacker requested a release from a team in February, but didn’t specify the reasoning.

Spillane denied that Fleck had asked him to transfer to Minnesota, and decided to come back to WMU for his third season in April.

In order to rejoin the team, Spillane had to meet with the team’s leadership council, the coaching staff and the entire team. Each group unanimously agreed to allow him to come back, and he has started practicing with the team.

Despite being a key playmaker and leader for the defense last year, first-year head coach Tim Lester is challenging Spillane to earn his starting position back on the practice field.

Following Thursday’s practice, Lester was asked about his standout linebacker.

“I knew the moment we started camp and everyone got to see Robert work that the issues would be gone, and there really weren’t any issues in the summer anyway,” Lester said. “He is an unbelievably hard worker and an unbelievable leader. You can’t deny that.”

“He’s 100 percent in. He wants to be perfect and for everyone else around him to be better. And man, it’s great to see him out there.”

WMU will kick off its season Sept. 2 at the University of Southern California’s Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.