All-Empire Large School Football: Newman’s Wright defensive player of the year

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cardinal Newman linebacker Philip "Scooby" Wright will be heading to the University of Arizona on a football scholarship in the fall. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Cardinal Newman linebacker Phil “Scooby” Wright will be heading to the University of Arizona on a football scholarship in the fall. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

They called Phil Wright’s grandfather Phil, and his father was Phil, too. That’s a lot of Phils. They thought about going with Big Phil and Little Phil for a while after Wright was born, but even that seemed too ambiguous.

So even as a baby, he was dubbed “Scooby.”

“I don’t remember my parents ever calling me Phil,” Wright said from Long Beach, where he was preparing for the West Coast Bowl, an elite all-star game at the Home Depot Center.

By the time he started playing high school football, there wasn’t any chance of confusion. Wright stood out from his first day at Cardinal Newman. And now he stands alone as The Press Democrat’s Large School Defensive Player of the Year.

Cardinals coach Paul Cronin isn’t the least surprised. Watching Wright develop at Newman, he knew he was looking at a kid with few precedents. Cronin could think of only two players who reminded him of Wright. One was running back/linebacker Jeff Badger, who graduated from Cardinal Newman in 2009. The other was Montgomery linebacker Koa Misi.

“Koa could run over our best offensive lineman, and then cover our best receiver,” Cronin said.

Misi currently plays for the Miami Dolphins. Cronin believes Wright has similar potential. He will suit up for the University of Arizona this fall, and expects to see playing time as a freshman.

Wright seems born to play football. Asked when he first developed a love for the game, he answered: “The first time I laid someone out, to be honest.”

He was 6.

“My first year in football, I was in the same weight class as most of the kids my age,” Wright said. “The next year I was playing against kids that were like two years older. By my fourth or fifth year, I was playing against guys like Garrett Guanella who were like three years older. It always helped me, having that competition.”

And Wright didn’t stop improving when he got to high school. He played JV ball as a freshman, and Cronin said he had a couple of kids who were a little better. Wright passed them up sometime during that first season.

As a sophomore, Cronin said, Wright may have been the best player on a very good Cardinal Newman defense. By the time he was leading the Cardinals as a senior, he sometimes looked like a college athlete bullying young kids.

Yes, Wright has prodigious physical talent to build upon. He’s about 6-foot-1½, and played at 225 pounds this year. Cronin says he has a vertical leap of 38 inches. He has great hands, which helped him catch 31 passes for 463 yards and nine touchdowns as a wide receiver.

But there are a lot of great athletes out there, and few of them play football at the Division 1 level. Wright separated himself through effort. He spent endless hours in the weight room and pacing himself through agility drills, shaping himself into a hitting machine.

“God gave him great genetics, but he works at it,” Cronin said.

“If he trained to play running back the entire year, he’d be the best running back in the county. If I had put him on the defensive line, he’d be the best defensive lineman in the county.”

As it was, Wright made his mark at linebacker. And he was the best in the county.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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