Scooby's football dreams arriving ahead of schedule

Scooby's football dreams arriving ahead of schedule

By Anthony Gimino / Special for Tucson News Now

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - When Scooby Wright was in the eighth grade, he and his family met with an administrator from Cardinal Newman High School.

Cardinal Newman, in Santa Rosa, CA, close to the Wright's home in Windsor, is known for many things, including being recognized several years ago as one of the top 50 Catholic high schools in the country. And, oh yeah, its football program is a Northern California powerhouse.

The administrator asked the Wrights about their interest in the school.

"What do you want out of Cardinal Newman?" he asked.

Phil Wright, Scooby's dad, answered.

"We want an All-American linebacker."

"No, what do you really want?"

"That's what he really wants to do."

Phil Wright chuckled at the memory in a phone interview Thursday.

"The guy looked at me like we were crazy," Phil said. "Scooby was like, 'Did he think we were kidding?'"

Scooby Wright's sophomore season with the Arizona Wildcats has been no joke.

The linebacker has absolutely blown up - in all the good ways - picking up two major honors Thursday morning. Wright was selected as one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which goes to the nation's top defensive player, and as one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award, which recognizes the top defensive lineman/linebacker.

"I know I am a little biased, but I knew he was a good player," Phil said. "Did I expect something like this to happen? No. Did I expect him to be an All-American as he went through college? Yeah. That was the goal.

"But I can't even fathom ever being this far advanced at a young age."

He paused.

"Especially for a two-star guy."

Yes, Scooby continues to get a good laugh out of his lowly two-star recruiting ranking, which he can especially mock when he ranks among the top five nationally in tackles (11.7 per game, fifth), tackles for loss (2.1 per game, first), sacks (12, fourth) and forced fumbles (5, tied for first). No other player in the country is even in the top 25 in each of those four categories.

That's why Scooby is going to soon have to be fitted for a tuxedo.

Oh yeah. Watch out. Scruffy Scooby is hitting the banquet circuit. The Nagurski ceremony is a black-tie affair in Charlotte, N.C., on Dec. 8. He'll go from there to Houston for the Lombardi award ceremony on Dec. 10.

"I told him to shave his beard up a little bit," Phil said. "He said, 'Dad, do I have to?' I said, 'You don't have to shave it off, but clean it up. You have to look presentable.'"

It is always more than a little silly that the committees for the national awards pare down their lists so early. Arizona still has two games left in the regular season, and, potentially, another right after that in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The first step toward that is winning at Utah on Saturday and then hoping UCLA beats USC later in the day.

So, while this is a great honor for Scooby and his family and the Wildcats, it comes at a time when he would rather not be thinking about it at all. Scooby has, on more than one occasion, said he doesn't like talking about himself.

"What he's worried about is making a run to the Pac-12 title and working toward the end of the year with a good bowl game," Phil said.

Arizona is in that position in late November with a lot of help from Scooby, who helped define the Arizona season with his late-game strip and fumble recovery of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota that preserved the Wildcats' upset win in Eugene.

From that Oct. 2 game, he's been a Pac-12 terror.

He has 18 tackles for loss, including 10 sacks, and five forced fumbles in seven league games. He forced three of those fumbles in one game against Washington State. His 19 tackles at UCLA were the most by an Arizona player in 15 years. He won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors in back-to-back games.


No doubt, the Arizona coaches put him in position to succeed. Scooby (6-1, 246) is the middle linebacker, so plays are either naturally funneled to him or he can go sideline to sideline to hunt down the ball carrier. On passing downs, he goes to a defensive end pass-rushing position, where the Tedy Bruschi comparisons are able to come to life.

"He has got a few moves, but more than anything he has good leverage and effort," coach Rich Rodriguez said of Wright.

"One of the reasons his numbers are so high ... is because of his effort. He strains until the nth degree. You want everyone to do that, but it comes to Scooby naturally. He plays with a sense of urgency on every snap."

And you know what he mostly talks to his dad about after a game?

A missed tackle. Being in the wrong place. Poor form, no wrapping up. Not properly diagnosing and anticipating a play.

"That's the way he is on the field; he only remembers the plays he did wrong," Phil said. "I tell him, 'You can't be everywhere, Scooby.' He says, 'Yeah, but I should be.'"

If Scooby wouldn't be his own biggest critic, then the Arizona coaches would take care of that. Jeff Casteel, Arizona's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, is rarely heard in the media, but he has ample voice on the practice field and in the meeting room. Best way to describe him: Old school.

"Casteel tells him every day, 'You ain't that good,'" Phil said.

"I asked Scooby, 'How do you take that?' He said, 'First year, he scared me to death. Now, I listen to everything he says.' But that's what Scooby loves, that hard-core coaching. The harder they make things for him, the better."

Here are a couple of scary thoughts. Scooby is still a young 19; he doesn't turn 20 until next August. And he's only been playing linebacker full time for the past couple of years. He was a do-it-all player at Cardinal Newman - linebacker, running back, receiver, returner, tight end and on and on.

Scoob is still a pup.

"I think next year it might even slow down for him more," Phil said. "He's going to be smarter and then be faster."

Given the honors that came Scooby's way Thursday, those goals of being an All-American probably are about to come true. Rodriguez is a coach who doesn't necessarily like to elevate the individual over the team, but the program is missing out if it doesn't promote Scooby as the ultimate OKG - Our Kinda Guy.

"Crazy times. I never expected this ride to be so fast, so soon," Phil said.

"It's not only good for him, it's great for the school and great for their future. I told him, 'You have to do your part to promote the school, not yourself. You're part of something growing.' RichRod always told us, 'Arizona is on the rise and we need you to help us get there.'

"I told Scooby, you have to keep representing."

Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.

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