Arizona’s unheralded Wright proves doubters wrong
TUCSON, Ariz. — If Scooby Wright III was to ever be a college football coach, it’s very clear one of the first places he’d look to recruit is Tiny Town, USA.
Ordinary,Va. Little Hope, Ala. If the guy can play, he’ll be there.
Why, Ariz.? Why not?
Because you never know when you’ll find that hidden gem of a player. That "sleeper," as Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez called.
With the Internet today and parents highlighting their kids successfully walking across the street on video, there are fewer secrets these days. But, as Wright said, "there’s a lot of guys out there … not in Los Angeles or San Diego or Florida."
They’re there — hiding in plain sight. So it was with Wright, Arizona’s defensive centerpiece at middle linebacker who will have to be wide awake and all over the field Thursday night when the Wildcats travel to Eugene, Ore., to take on explosive Oregon in a payback game for the second-ranked Ducks.
"I remember thinking, ‘this guy is a really good player," said Rodriguez, when asked what he thought when he first saw Wright on a recruiting trip. "I immediately asked, ‘OK, so who else do we have to beat to recruit him?’ And, it wasn’t really a whole lot."
Arizona stood alone, finding Wright in Windsor, Calif., at Cardinal Newman High.
TwoStarScoob was found.
TwoStarScoob is the self-appointed Twitter name he gave himself after being given just two stars by the so-called recruiting analysts.
"I didn’t know he had two stars," Rodriguez joked. "I thought he only had one."
Speaking of stars, Rodriguez has one in Wright, a hard-nosed, get-it-done type who plays every play as though it was his last.
"That kid is a dog," said former teammate Jake Fischer, who was proud to see Wright take over his number (33) and his old position for his sophomore season after starting on the outside last year — as a true freshman. "He’s always working to improve physically and mentally. He eats, sleeps and breathes football. He’s the perfect mold for a Rich Rodriguez OKG."
OKG is Rodriguez talk for "Our Kinda Guy."
In text talk Wright is more like OMG. Through four games at his new position, he’s recorded a Pac-12 Conference-leading 12.7 tackles per game, including 18 against California in Arizona’s most-recent win. It was the most by an Arizona player in 15 years. And yes, the Wildcats needed every single one in their 49-45 last-second victory.
"Scooby Wright has been our most consistent player on defense," said Rodriguez. "If Scooby wasn’t making plays, we’d have been struggling even more at times. Our defense had played OK at times, but Scooby has been the most consistent guy."
Wright’s weight is up to 246 after playing at 230 last year. He only stands 6-feet-1, but "he’s a big physical presence," who will only get better as he continues to get stronger, Rodriguez said. "Football is really important to him."
It’s 24/7 for Wright, who’s given name is Phillip — the same as his father, who played at Long Beach State.
I just wanna say thank you to CAL for saying I wasn't good enough to play at their program or the PAC 12 #motivation#tacklingfuel
— Scooby Wright III (@TwoStarScoob) September 21, 2014
"I just think of it all the time," he said. "How to make a big play or just doing your job."
One of Wright’s biggest plays set the tone for last year’s 42-16 upset of then-No. 5 Oregon. On the Ducks’ initial drive, a diving Shaquille Richardson dove out of bounds to eventually flick a pass back into the arms of Wright, who returned it 13 yards. It set up UA’s first touchdown.
"That was the turning point of the game, a big play," he said. "We kept going from there and built from it."
His monster game vs. California came against a team that was no further than 45 minutes from his home. It didn’t recruit him.
"(Some) people just don’t think you’re good enough," he said. "Most people like to prove people wrong, and it motivates you every day."
It’s been that way for awhile. Deep down — where smallish linebackers find the strength to make the play — he knew he was better than some he played against who were being offered scholarships. He proved in a postseason West Coast All-Star game, standing out against some of the best, but by then, Arizona had already found him.
"When we found him we knew we had something special," Rodriguez said. "He’s proved to be that."