By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Scooby, you got time for breakfast? Sure, Scooby Wright said, he had time for the head football coach and the defensive coordinator from the University of Arizona. How about Monday morning? Sure, Scooby said. Great, said head coach Rich Rodriguez. Jeff Casteel and myself will fly up early morning on the school’s Lear jet. I live near the Charles Schulz airport, Scooby said. I’ll come by pick you up. My mom, Annette, makes a great breakfast and I’ll tell you how I got the name Scooby.
OK, OK, the only thing untrue about the previous paragraph was the Scooby part.
This is what it’s like to feel wanted in intercollegiate athletics.
The Arizona coaches certainly didn’t have to do it. Wright, the Cardinal Newman linebacker, verbally committed to the Pac-12 school months ago, on June 23. In the intervening eight months, Wright never wavered in his promise. His official visit to the Tucson campus on January 11th reconfirmed what he experienced on his unofficial visit last June 18. Wright had weekly e-mail correspondence with an Arizona coach. If Wright had a head cold, Arizona would have flown up some Kleenex on the Lear. Yes, Wright was a done deal. Yet Arizona wanted to solidify the love, the Wildcats liked him so much.
Arizona knew Wright had been gathering attention. If he hadn’t committed verbally so early, Wright said, 10-15 schools already had professed a serious interest and would have made a push for him, among them Boise State, Oregon, Northwestern, Cal, Utah, UNLV and San Diego State.
On January 16th, Casteel flew up to have dinner with Wright at the La Gare restaurant in Santa Rosa. And this time Casteel flew commercial! No more compelling statement on a D1 university’s commitment can be made.
Unless the school’s entire football coach staff greets you when you arrive on campus.
That happened as well. On June 18 last year Wright went down with his folks on an unofficial visit to Arizona. As Wright emerged from the taxi and walked toward the football office. Rodriguez and his 11 assistants were waiting for him.
How did Wright know they were waiting for him? Because one of the assistants yelled “Scooby!” as he walked toward them and, well, you don’t usually hear “Scooby” spoken that often on a college campus, especially by someone over the age of seven.
“That never had happened to me before,” Wright said. “I was in shock. I even met the kicking coach.”
Isn’t a 12-coach welcoming committee usually reserved for a quarterback who can hit a bee’s butt from 80 yards and will turn pro after his junior year? Maybe. But Casteel told Wright Arizona needs linebackers who have a fire in their belly and wings for feet and instincts for the sport God doesn’t give an ordinary man. And there you have the clinical description of Wright, the following anecdote providing supplemental evidence. “What do I do, coach?” Wright asked Newman’s defensive coordinator Matt DiMeola. Wright was an incoming freshman. It was the school’s first fall practice.
“Play like your hair is on fire,” said DiMeola in his typical understated style, “and do it at 1,000 miles an hour.”
Wright thought on the mandate and responded in a way that made DiMeola happy and made Wright attractive to Arizona. “All right. Cool.”
It was the perfect marriage of attitude and skill. Wright’s dad, Phil, was a 6-foot-1, 255-pound fullback at Long Beach State and informed his son how college football coaches love players with a big motor. All the talent in the world will not overcome laziness and to approach Wright with that concept is like shoving an anchovy under his nose. He is repulsed by the mere thought of it.
“My dad always told me,” Wright said, “that the dog which climbs the mountain is always more hungry than the dog on top of the mountain.”
So, sure, the Lear jet breakfast and the 12-coach reception are fun, nice stories but that’s all they are. Stories. Stories don’t make tackles and follow game plans. Those stories don’t reveal the passion Wright has for the game.
The following quotation does.
“You can go out and hit people at full speed,” Wright said, “and not get in trouble for it.”
Yep, the kid is a linebacker all right, a linebacker at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds with a size 14 shoe and room to grow. Wright frequently overwhelmed the opposition last football season which is of course what you should do in high school to impress people you are ready for the next level. Wright will sign his official letter-of-intent with Arizona February 6th. Paul Cronin, Newman’s coach, said Wright is ready for the next level, mentioning there will be another level after that for Wright.
“Scooby is a better person than he is a football player,” Cronin said. “He’s one of the top five workers I’ve ever seen. He’s going to be a stud in college. One day we are going to watch him Sunday on television after he plays in college. And then he’s going to get me free tickets!”
Wright lowered his head a bit when Cronin paid him all those compliments. He is not egocentric. He thinks he can play at a high level in D1 but he’d rather show it than talk about it. For Wright pats on the back from admirers can cripple focus and desire. Wright is experienced at keeping focused. He learned that at an early age. “My dad’s name is Phil and my grandfather’s name is Phil and my name is Phil,” Wright said. “My dad thought that was too many Phils and he wanted to change that. When I was a toddler, I was told, my dad was holding me when we were watching ‘Scooby-Doo’ on television. I became Scooby. Nobody in my family has ever called me Phil.”
So what should Scooby do years from now when he becomes a father and has a son? What should be his name? Shaggy of course. It’s a photo op all right, Shaggy sitting on Scooby’s lap, dad telling son about all the fun he once had playing football with his hair on fire. It’ll be a tender moment, as Scooby tells Shaggy how important it is to have passion in life.
“Go all in or don’t go at all,” Scooby will say. Don’t tippy-toe, son. It’s no way to play football. It’s no way to live.
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or email@example.com.