When York football player Lee Wright was interviewed by Charlotte TV station WSOC last month, he was asked what three items he would want if he was marooned on a desert island. Wright’s answer revealed much about the senior’s football game: a cell phone, a shotgun and shotgun shells.
“I can’t live without my cell phone and If I have to be out there by myself, I have to have something with me,” he explained, laughing.
The cell phone? It represents Wright’s flashiness on the gridiron and his ability to make plays out of nothing. The shotgun and shells personify his no-nonsense approach to the game.
Wright was an All-Region 3-AAA running back last year, topping 1,800 yards on the ground and scoring over 20 touchdowns, but made the switch this year to defense, a move that’s helped an already solid Cougar unit, led by seniors Rominique Mobley, Chad Hill and Beau Nunn, become very good.
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“Over the summer I had told myself that whatever I had to do to help the team win, I was gonna do,” Wright said Thursday before the Cougars’ walk-through.
York is only allowing about 13 points per game this year and it’s forced 10 turnovers in the first three contests, including three interceptions returned for touchdowns. Wright, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound athlete with a 4.55 40-yard time and a 36-inch vertical leap, is a big reason for the Cougars’ defensive stinginess.
So far, he has 34 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions for the Cougars, and both of his interceptions went for scores, a 33-yard TD return against Boiling Springs and a 20-yard TD return in the 34-19 win over Gaffney last week.
Having a converted running back in the open field after a turnover is an unforeseen benefit of Wright’s switch. As York head coach Bobby Carroll pointed out, “you can score from defense too.”
Wright, who dyes his mohawk a different color before every game, hasn’t been the only Cougar making plays. York is off to a 3-0 start for the first time since the 2004 season under Steve Boyd, and if the Cougars knock off Keenan Friday night, they’ll be 4-0 for the first time since 1984 when Bill Pate’s team went 11-2.
Carroll said the eye-opening win over Gaffney at the vaunted Reservation was one of the biggest moments of his coaching career, high praise considering he’s been in six state championship games. It was also York’s first -ever win over the Indians in nine tries. Accordingly, Carroll’s team has earned a No. 8 ranking in the state’s most recent S.C. Prep Media Poll.
The Cougars ain’t buying the hype.
“We don’t talk about the past around here, we don’t talk about 4-0 and rankings,” said Carroll. “It’s like a barbershop, man, one at a time.”
Wright said the work the Cougars put in earlier is paying off. “We know there’s gonna be even harder opponents coming up so we worked even harder over the summer,” he said, adding that last year’s 10-win season left the taste of success in the Cougars’ mouths.
Hard work. Work harder. Working hard. Forms of that phrase pepper Wright’s answers and it’s evident he’s not just giving the subject lip service. With mature players like him throughout the squad, it’s been easy for Carroll to keep the unit on an even keel. That mindset will be even more crucial when the Cougars enter Region 3-AAAA play next week. They face Rock Hill and Fort Mill in the first two weeks, before crunch back-to-back games against Northwestern and South Pointe in October.
To keep the team fresh, York tries to two-platoon at every position. Besides his defensive duties, Wright will see time at running back as the season wears on to keep starter Ryan Moore in top shape. Carroll said two-platooning is almost a must in AAAA football “unless you’ve got 11 super heroes. But if it doesn’t work out, we’re gonna put players where they need to be for our team to be successful.”
Wright’s versatility has enabled Carroll to do that, while also helping the student-athlete in his burgeoning recruitment. Carroll said that all the schools currently keeping tabs on Wright like him as a running back, but having film from the defensive side of the ball only broadens the senior’s college options. Notre Dame is the biggest name involved so far, but N.C. State, Tennessee, Furman, Charlotte and Toledo are also very interested in Wright, who is a good student and a full academic qualifier already. Wright isn’t worried about the college chase, though, preferring to focus on the next three months, which should challenge his conditioning especially.
“Come region time,” Wright said, “I’m gonna’ have to get in great shape because I’m gonna’ have to play both sides of the ball. I’m looking forward to it.”
Of course he is, because it means more work. Wright’s a kid you would want to have with you on a desert island. The York program is full of football players just like him, according to Carroll.
“We don’t have any selfish players that are worried about playing time or what side of the ball they’re on. These kids just want to play.”