CORVALLIS, Ore. (KOIN) — Omar Speights grew up in a crime-filled area of Philadelphia. But after his best friend and teammate was murdered, he’s found an oasis in Corvallis.
On the football field, Speights is ferocious. Hit or be hit. Hurt or be hurt. It’s a mindset borne out of the reality of growing up in a rough spot in Philly.
“It was like a lot of crime and stuff like that, so just trying to stay out of it and stuff like that,” he told KOIN 6 News.
In 2018, the Philadelphia Police Department recorded 353 homicides. One of those was his close friend, Kristian Marche, who had accepted a scholarshop to run track at Penn State.
“It was at night, he was picking his little brother up from practice and they was in his house and he went to go look,” he said. “And then it happened, like that.”
“Anybody losing their life is real but that, like that, it hit closer because it’s like he’s doing the same thing I’m doing, just a different sport. So it’s like they don’t even care, like, what you got going on for yourself.”
It didn’t take long for Omar’s mother, Patricia, and his older brother — Oregon State defensive end Jeromy Reichner — to decide Speights needed to get out of Philadelphia. Corvallis became the perfect place for him to finish his high school career.
“She felt like it was a safer environment for me here instead of staying there,” he said. “Plus I’m doing something instead of staying there and like possibly getting caught up in something. So at the end of the day, she supported it, but at the end of the day it was going to be hard, seeing me leave so fast.”
Speights joined Crescent Valley’s football team for his senior year. He noticed an immediate difference.
“Just like how people interact with each other like, it’s like everybody’s smiling, like positive energy, stuff like that.”
He adjusted quickly and, following his brother’s footsteps, became a Beaver last spring. He switched to linebacker and earned All-Freshman honors.
“Omar’s a little kind of quiet and keeps to himself a little bit, but he’s kind of got a serious demeanor,” said Beavers defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar. “Where he’s going to be quiet, be quiet, be quiet, and all of a sudden he’s going to explode on ya…That’s exactly what kind of attitude you want to have from a linebacker. He’s got some bad intentions out there, which is what you want. When he arrives there, he’s arriving in a bad mood.”
Speights describes it this way: “You gotta inflict something on somebody else, you can’t let them do it to you. I’m never going to let anybody do nothing to me.”
His mother was even able to be in the stands when he had a team-high 6 tackles in his first Civil War game.
Now he said he has a lot of hope.
“It gives me a lot of hope because it’s like this is Level 1. Imagine what can happen when you get all the way up there.”