Scooby Wright's puppy days paved way for success at Arizona
TUCSON, Ariz. -- When Scooby Wright was 6 years old, he narrowly missed the age cut-off to play Pop Warner football.
He was heartbroken. He had to play a year of soccer instead.
Can you imagine? The kid his father describes as "an action guy" had to run around the soccer field for a season before he could get to do more of what he loved to with his dad back at home. Some of Scooby's earliest memories are of wearing his dad's old high-school helmet -- the one for fullbacks, the one with a full-cage face mask -- and playing with the football in the back yard.
"He was like a sponge," Phil Wright said of his son in a phone interview Thursday. "Anytime he could do football, he did. He always wanted to learn, and we were always talking about the future."
The future is now.
Wright, a sophomore for the Arizona Wildcats, had one of the most prolific half-seasons for a linebacker at a school that has produced more talent at linebacker -- Ricky Hunley, Byron Evans and Lance Briggs to name three -- than at any other position.
Wright last week was selected a midseason All-American by Sports Illustrated. He shrugged. Sure, he was honored, but "it's only midseason, so whatever," he said.
Wright and the 15th-ranked Wildcats (5-1 overall, 2-1 Pac-12) begin the second half of their season Saturday at Washington State (2-5, 1-3). Wright has made 70 tackles, including 11 for loss and two sacks. He has forced two fumbles, including the Scooby Strip of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota late in Arizona's 31-24 victory at the second-ranked Ducks.
"We knew we had something special last year," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said of Wright, who started the first game of his true freshman season, a rarity.
"The nice part about Scooby, the reason why he's having success, is that it's important to him. Sounds like a coach's cliche, but, truly, he does what we ask him to do and then goes above and beyond, every day. Scooby is leading us in tackles because he plays with a greater sense of urgency than the rest of the guys."
Wright, the middle linebacker, loves the urgency, which is why he loves football.
His father, after playing junior-college football and for Long Beach State, became a renowned fastpitch softball pitcher. Scooby's older sisters played softball; Ashley was a pitcher at Illinois.
"When I was growing up, I pretty much lived on softball fields," Wright said. "I played baseball. I played catcher, but the only thing I could really do was hit. I wasn't too much into the field. It was too boring for me."
Said his dad, now the softball coach at Santa Rosa Junior College: "He was hitting home runs all the time, but then the coaches would walk him. He was like, 'It's no fun.' It became like pulling teeth to get him to the game. ... 'That's boring.' He would say that all the time."
9-year-old Scooby Wright did not like losing.
Football wasn't boring. It was the sport he was born to play. From Pop Warner through high school, Scooby was part of championship teams, expect for when he was 9 years old. Dad still keeps a photo in the house back in Windsor, Calif., of young Scooby, wearing the eye black as he does now, dejected after that loss.
In high school, at Cardinal Newman, Wright could do it all. In addition to playing linebacker, he was a standout running back, receiver and returner.
"RichRod initially told him it's possible he could play two ways, but he just wants to focus on his defense now," Phil said.
Well, mostly. Scooby sees that the Pac-12 has notable two-way linebacker/running backs in UCLA's Myles Jack and Washington's Shaq Thompson, and he sometimes jokes with the coaches about joining that group. The 246-pounder smiles when asked if he misses playing running back.
"I actually do," he said. "But what I miss most is returning kicks. I tell people I used to return kicks, and they're like, 'No way, you did not return kicks.' I actually had three or four for touchdowns. It's on my highlight film in high school, believe it or not."
It would be hard to find anybody having more fun than Philip Wright III, the high-motor playmaker with the cool nickname his father gave him as a baby. He reacted with the wonderment of a little kid when his football hero texted him following Arizona's 28-26 loss to USC on Oct. 11, when Casey Skowron missed a 36-yard field goal in the final seconds. Scooby woke up at 5 the next morning, feeling beat up, and saw that he had a really long text message from Tedy Bruschi.
"He calls and was like, 'I just had to read it like three times,' " Phil said.
"Tedy was just talking to him about being humble and to take care of your teammates because it's going to be a tough week for the kicker. You're going to need him, so make sure the team is together. Scooby was so excited that Tedy reached out to him."
Scooby plastered the walls of his childhood room with his sports heroes, including Bruschi, but didn't even know Bruschi played at Arizona until he saw a picture of him in the UA weight room. "I was like, 'Oh, wow,' " Scooby said.
Here's another Arizona connection. One of Phil's daughters recently made him a grandfather, and the boy is named after another ex-Wildcat, tight end Rob Gronkowski. Don't you love this family?
About 35 family and friends of Wright will travel to Pullman, Wash., for Saturday's game. More are likely to attend the game after that at UCLA.
"The Scooby Crew is traveling," Phil said.
Scooby Wright's traveling fan base has its own gear.
They'll be the ones wearing specially-designed T-shirts that show the cartoon head of Scooby-Doo in an Arizona helmet, wearing Wright's jersey number. The words "David vs. Goliath" on the bulging right biceps is a reminder of how he is proving everyone wrong after being rated as a two-star recruit. Scooby's actual upper right arm depicts a scene of David slaying Goliath.
Rodriguez and his staff recruited him first and have been rewarded.
"Other schools came in late, but Scooby just believed in RichRod," Phil said. "He said, 'Coach Rodriguez was the first guy to believe in me, and I'm going to believe in him.'"
While Phil is on the phone, he goes into Scooby's old room. A few posters remain on the walls, including one of Vince Lombardi with the text of "What it takes to be No. 1." That's the speech that begins, "Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all-the-time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time."
Young Scooby learned his lessons well.