Wright has gone from ignored by colleges to potential All-American
One of the few places Scooby Wright will find his given name is on his high school diploma.
So ingrained is the nickname Scooby that when he was announced at his graduation ceremony at Cardinal Newman in Santa Rosa, Calif., many of his friends were taken aback to see him rise when “Phillip Wright III” was called to receive his diploma.
“And these were friends from fourth or fifth grade,” Wright told Athlon Sports.
Wright almost never goes by the name Phillip. Not even his parents — even when frustrated or trying to get his attention — use his full name.
He’s had his nickname since he was a baby when his father called his son his “little Scooby Doo.”
By season’s end, he’ll be the first Scooby to earn All-Pac-12 honors and perhaps other awards. Earlier this week, Wright was named a finalist for the Nagurski and Lombardi awards.
Wright ranks first nationally in tackles for a loss per game (2.2), third in sacks per game (1.2), fourth in tackles per game (11.8) and tied for first in forced fumbles (five).
With numbers like that, Wright may be on the verge of rare rise from recruiting obscurity to national prominence.
If Wright is a consensus All-American this season, he’ll be the sixth defensive freshman or sophomore since 2009 to earn that honor.
The others on the list are a who’s who of college and NFL stars: South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Boston College’s Luke Kuechly and Texas’ Earl Thomas.
If Wright joins that group, he’ll complete a meteoric two-year rise. He wears the Scooby nickname with pride but also his recruiting rating. On Twitter, Wright is @TwoStarScoob.
Though he’ll be decorated at the end of his sophomore college season, Wright nearly finished his junior high school season without a scholarship offer. He participated in camps but received only the cursory two-star rating by the recruiting services.
“He kind of was baffled why he wasn’t being recruited more,” Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin said. “There was one coach who said, ‘Hey, go check out Sacramento State or check out UC Davis.’ Those are good schools, but it was an insult to him because he thought he was better than the guys they were recruiting.”
The longtime coach at Cardinal Newman, Cronin remembers Wright around the school for several years before he was a freshman. Wright’s father is the softball coach at Santa Rosa Junior College, and his sister, six years older, played college softball at Illinois.
Confidence was never an issue for Wright, as he promised as a freshman that he’d be a Division I linebacker.
That was tested, though, in his junior year. His classmates in other sports were starting to receive scholarship offers, but Wright was not among them.
Cardinal Newman was not a football hotbed, so recruiters weren’t in the area consistently. Before Wright, the last alum to play high school football at a high level was offensive lineman Al Netter, who went to Northwestern and now plays for the San Francisco 49ers.
Though he was a productive high school player, Wright didn’t exactly look the part. Cronin estimates Wright weighed about 195-205 pounds at the time. His recruiting profiles listed him at 6-1, 225 pounds. As a junior, he barely had a 30-inch vertical. By the time he was a senior, that improved to 38 inches.
His Arizona profile lists him now at 246 pounds.
“Everyone always questioned my athleticism,” Wright said. “(But) I went to the Nike training camp with supposedly the best guys in the West Coast. I went and competed with the best of them and stood out but never really heard anything back.”
Wright was so far removed from recruiting that when the first offer came, he was nowhere to be found. While Wright was “probably at the beach that day,” Cronin was the first to learn that Arizona stumbled upon his highlights and couldn’t let him slip away.
The first contact came at the end of his junior year when he spoke to then-Arizona assistant Tony Gibson, who is now defensive coordinator at West Virginia.
“The first time I talked to them was when coach Gibson said, ‘we’re going to offer you,’” Wright said.
The scholarship offer wasn’t without risk, though. As happens in recruiting, secrets don’t stay secret for long. Once reports of an Arizona offer hit recruiting news sites, other schools might have taken a closer look — and not just Sacramento State and UC Davis.
“I thought this guy looks like a really good player,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “We thought, if we offer him, it’s going to bring attention to him and we’re going to have to fight a bunch of folks.”
Other schools started to pay attention, but Arizona made sure Wright didn’t feel forgotten. And Wright didn’t forget that out of the hundreds of highlights he sent, Arizona was one of the few to respond and the only one that didn’t hedge.
“Other schools said we’ll get back to you or send us film from your senior year,” Wright said. “But there was none of that with Arizona. They said we’re going to offer you now. We want you.”
The flyer on Wright paid quick dividends for Arizona. He started as freshman, picking up 83 tackles and 9.5 tackles for a loss and earning Athlon Sports second-team Freshman All-America honors.
If any school wishes it would have pounced on Wright early, it’s probably Oregon. Anything that would have kept Wright out of an Arizona uniform.
In Oregon’s two losses to Arizona in the last two seasons, Wright has been the pivotal player. Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota has been one of the most sure-handed quarterbacks in the country the last two seasons, but Wright has plucked two turnovers in two seasons from the Heisman contender.
Last season, Wright intercepted a Mariota pass, plucking the ball out of the air after teammate Shaq Richardson, falling out of bounds, deflected the ball to keep it in play. The first-quarter interception set the tone as Arizona upset the fifth-ranked Ducks 42-16.
In a Thursday night game on Oct. 2, Wright sacked Mariota, stripped the ball and recovered the fumble as Oregon drove down the field for the game-tying score. Arizona upset the No. 2 Ducks 31-24.
Wright, who two years earlier had gone ignored by colleges, couldn’t go to the student rec center the following Saturday without being noticed by other students.
“Once he got on campus, we found that he could handle a lot physically and mentally,” Rodriguez said. “He’s just a football player whether you put him at defensive end or linebacker. We could put him at fullback because he’s great there, too.”