Scooby Wright is hellbent on proving every one of his doubters wrong
His Twitter handle is dang near perfect.
It plays off his recruiting label, off the snub from something so many players get caught up in. The recruiting star-system often becomes part of a player’s identity. It’s certainly become part of linebacker Scooby Wright’s persona.
When he first signed up for Twitter, the Arizona star said he thought "TwoStarScoob" would be more meaningful than Scooby Wright.
"It’s definitely a daily reminder," Wright said, "because I think it’s what keeps me humble and not let me forget where I came from, what people doubted."
As a recruit two years ago, Wright was deemed a two-star prospect. Deep down he hated it, but in a way he loves it now. Wright uses it. The whole "TwoStarScoob" thing serves as a constant reminder of a time when no one expected him to be great or even wanted him on their football team. Thanks to a whole lot of grit, Wright’s proved all those naysayers wrong.
"I definitely had a chip on my shoulder ’cause I always wanted to play with great pride," he said. "It definitely motivated me to extra work and prove all the doubters wrong."
Boy, has he ever.
This season, the old two-star guy has outshined everyone, including all of the four- and five-star guys. Wright’s production for the upstart Arizona Wildcats is ridiculous: His 27 tackles for loss lead the country; he also has 139 tackles, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles, which helped him become the first underclassman in 24 years to win the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Not bad for a guy who had only one FBS scholarship offer coming out of high school. In fact, it wasn’t just the online recruiting sites that were skeptical of his ability.
The 6-foot-1, 247-pound linebacker from Northern California said he sent his game film to a "countless" amount of colleges and kept emailing coaches but almost never heard anything back. As a junior, he went to camp at the University of Washington, hoping to impress the Huskies staff.
"The linebacker coach told me, ‘Yeah, you should probably look at some other school out of the Pac-12,’" Wright said. "Me and my dad just looked at each other and said, ‘OK, whatever.’"
Another Pac-12 program told him they didn’t think he was a Pac-12-caliber player. Yet when Wright worked out at the combines that most prospective high school recruits attend, he tested out as one of the most explosive athletes in the whole country based on his numbers, which included an eye-catching 37-inch vertical jump.
"Because I went to all the combines and stuff, it was just weird because I knew I could hang with those guys and I was better than some of those guys getting offers from all over the country," he said. "I always had that bitterness in my mouth.
"I was really confused. I was like, I might go to (FCS) Sac State or Cal Poly or something like that."
Wright had no idea what he was missing. Even though he was athletic enough to also return kicks and play as a slot receiver for his team, he now guesses maybe college coaches questioned his speed. Whatever the reason, the snubbing was eating him up back then.
"There were times where I couldn’t sleep at night," he says. "I’d just go run and do something to get my mind off stuff.
"I was always stressing out. I think it was spring semester of my junior year right when spring camp started. I was walking on egg shells; like only a handful of schools came by. I was always just stressing out about stuff. I don’t want to say I didn’t enjoy the process, but I didn’t."
Then, Wright got a call out of the blue from then-Wildcats assistant Tony Gibson.
"Hey, we just watched your film and we’re going to offer you," Gibson said, according to Wright.
"Even on my official visit, they were like ‘Yeah, we saw the first couple plays of the highlight film and we knew we wanted you’ and that was a cool feeling because, as I said before, I was always in that gray area with everybody and never really knew where I stood, so that was a cool thing about coming here knowing where I stood."
Arizona was just hoping no one else was seeing what they saw and would jump in to offer the linebacker.
“Two-Star Scooby, it baffles me that more people weren’t on him," Wildcats head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "That he was in a smaller area and not a highly recruited area (may have contributed to it), but after we watched the film, asked people about him, got to meet his family, I’m thinking there’s no negatives.
"He’s very, very coachable, extremely coachable. This is a guy that has such great passion for the game that he’s gonna make himself a better player every day."
Classmate Anu Solomon, the Wildcats’ starting quarterback, calls Wright the toughest guy on the team and said he knew it from almost the first day they showed up on the U of A campus.
Wright’s focus and dedication are reflected in his gym-rat approach, one that harkens back to some of the weight room freaks Rodriguez had in his days at West Virginia. Heck, Wright, who said he’d like to become a strength coach after his playing days are over, even can rattle off some of the weight-room numbers of those Mountaineer strongmen. How many other Pac-12 players can tell you how much Marc Magro could power-clean? But that’s another layer of Wright’s determination and his emotional reservoir.
In some ways Wright looks like a middle linebacker right out of central casting. He peels back the sleeve of his polo to better show a tattoo he got on his left arm last June.
"It’s David and Goliath and that’s something that always kind of motivates me," he said.
Asked if he identifies with David, Wright laughs. "Yeah."
So, who’s Goliath?
"Everybody who thought I wasn’t good enough."
Beneath the illustration you can also spot a few words. What do they say?
"May God have mercy on my enemies. Because I won’t."
Wright had a very good debut season for Arizona in 2013, starting 12 games at SAM linebacker, making 83 tackles and 9.5 TFLs. But this year he has shifted to middle linebacker (and on third downs becomes a pass-rushing terror at defensive end) and has emerged as a dominant player.
And yet, despite his jaw-dropping stats and production, he still was snubbed by the Butkus Award committee, leaving him off their five-man list of finalists, which, no doubt, will only make the chip on his shoulder that much bigger.
"The biggest intangible a guy like Scooby has," Rodriguez said, "is the need to prove himself all the time, and that he plays with such passion."
No doubt he’ll have a big stage to prove himself to the whole country Friday night when Wright’s Wildcats try to beat the explosive Oregon Ducks for a second time this season and perhaps muscle their way into the College Football Playoff.
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FOX Sports 1. He is also a New York Times Bestselling author. His new book, The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks, came out in October, 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB.