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Robert Spillane granted release from Western Michigan

Spillane, a junior linebacker, was WMU's leading tackler in 2016.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Junior inside linebacker Robert Spillane will not return to the Western Michigan Broncos for the 2017 season, according to the football team’s official Twitter page.

Spillane suited up 33 times for the Broncos during his three-year career, earning significant playing time in each season.

Spillane led the 13-1 Broncos with 111 tackles during the 2016 season. He additionally recorded three sacks, two forced fumbles, and three interceptions during Western Michigan’s historic year. But no defensive play held more vitality in the Broncos’ season than his interception in the MAC Championship Game.

Leading by six over a rallying, upset-minded Ohio Bobcats offense, Spillane secured the victory for the Broncos by jumping a route from his zone in the center of the field and intercepting the ball. The play sealed Western Michigan’s 13th win of the season, leading to the program’s first Cotton Bowl berth.

“We were sitting back in the zone and they were throwing the out routes, about four in a row,” Spillane said of the interception. “Our coaches decided to change it up into a man concept defense. I was supposed to cover the running back man-to-man, but I read the quarterback’s eyes and was just able to make a quick play on the ball.”

The 6-foot-2-inch linebacker was recruited by former Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck in 2014 — the first commit of the class.

But coaching changes often cause major shakeups in football programs.

Many Broncos players were on board with Fleck’s fiery spirit, motivational persona, and coaching style. When Fleck decided to test the waters with a job in Minnesota last January, several targeted recruits flipped their decisions.

Although the motivation for Spillane to leave Kalamazoo is currently unknown, the linebacker was very supportive of Fleck and served as a contributing leader during the coach’s tenure.

“Fleck’s done everything,” Spillane said, following Western Michigan’s defeat in the Cotton Bowl. “He’s been my dad away from home. He brought me into this program as a little boy and helped me mature throughout the year. Now, he just told me this is my team, my defense. He wants me to really lead these boys, take this and grow from it.”

Spillane held offers from Cincinnati, Northern Illinois, Purdue, Syracuse and Toledo before committing to Western Michigan.

Spillane’s future plans have yet to be revealed.