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Padecky: Scooby doing it now


What would Scooby do? It was a valid question. After all, Scooby Wright, a true freshman, was about to start the first game of the 2013 season for the University of Arizona at outside linebacker.

It was Aug. 31 and true freshmen typically do not start for a top-tier Division I university in football. True freshmen watch. True freshmen are just happy to be here. True freshmen stand on the sideline and try not to trip over water bottles or power cords or find themselves in the way as the head coach is running after the referee, yelling.

Yet there he was, a 2013 Cardinal Newman graduate, about to walk out onto the field of Arizona Stadium, 53,000 people waiting for him and his Wildcats brethren to play Northern Arizona. So what would Scooby do? It's not like Wright could go on The True Freshman Database for help. For a moment, a very brief moment, he allowed himself to be a true freshman.

"Oh my God," Wright remembered thinking to himself.

This wasn't a dream. This was the University of Arizona of Rob Gronkowski and Tedy Bruschi and Chuck Cecil, guys who went on to impact the NFL. Even though the school's sports information office doesn't have a list of how many true freshmen have ever started at the school, rest assured it ain't as thick as the Manhattan phonebook.

"It was kind of surreal," Wright said. "At first it was a shock."

Which lasted about as long as it took Wright to say that last sentence. Wright didn't get to start as a true freshman by gawking at his surroundings like a tourist. Wright quickly recaptured the mindset that first led him into the sport when he was just 7 years old playing for the Windsor Knights. For him, the game took over. The playing of it. The contact. He moved smooth and quick. His Arizona coaches say he has the instincts, the football instincts. It seems Wright always had that.

"It's like a soft focus," he said. "You see everything. You notice the little things, like offensive linemen putting down hard knuckles (for a running play) on the ground or soft knuckles (for pass blocking). You look for hints."

Football intelligence will set you apart. Wright began preseason camp running with the second and third teams. Coming out of Newman he was ranked a two-star recruit by most high school scouting services, a talent, sure, but not a sensational one. A workable one. Maybe a situational guy. A gap guy.

I'll pause for a moment so we can all enjoy a good laugh at the experts who are not.

Can scouting services capture football intelligence, a natural instinct for the game, an unrelenting willingness to play sideline to sideline? It didn't take the Arizona coaches that long to see that second- and third-teamer didn't play like one. "Camp sensation" is what the reporter from the Arizona Daily Star wrote. "Has the Scooby Doo era begun?" the reporter later wrote.

Yes, that was the kind of immediate splash Wright made. It wasn't subtle. It wasn't seen by one; it was seen by all.

"(Newman coach Paul) Cronin told me it's still football. It's just the players are faster and bigger," Wright said.

Make the adjustments. Do what is necessary. Don't be surprised at what your talent can do for you. Wright played to that rhythm ... and then ... oops ... wouldn't you know it, he still surprised himself.

"In our first game, I beat the guard and I was in their backfield," Wright said. "I had a safety right there. I should have tackled the quarterback ... but I was surprised I got in the backfield that quickly."

Wright paused for a moment in telling the story, then added, in a phrase totally in keeping with his personality, "but maybe that would have been too much (tackling the quarterback in the end zone) in my first game in college."

Humility was the intent behind that sentence, not an insecurity. In just two games, Wright has been credited with 13 tackles, including leading the Wildcats with seven of them in their second game against UNLV. He has been an impact player and praise has been constant and effusive from his teammates, such as this one from senior linebacker Jake Fischer: "He'll be an all-Pac-12 linebacker one day."

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez is more than happy to join the chorus. He agrees with Fischer and then some.

"His potential is unlimited," Rodriguez said. "He is everything we thought he was ... and more. He has a great motor. He has an edge about him. He's the son of a coach. He has so many things going for him."

All of this, of course, will get only a shrug from Wright. He'll never do a sack dance, point at a downed runner or stick a finger in his chest certifying his place as big dog. His father, Phil, once a linebacker at Long Beach State, and his Newman coaches repeatedly emphasized the same thing.

No linebacker ever tackled a runner with his press clippings.

"Jim Harbaugh said something once that really struck home with me," Wright said. "If you pay attention to everything people say about you, you'll get kicked in the teeth."

Harbaugh wouldn't have to say that twice to Wright. Wright is out there for the competition, not the adulation, an attitude easy to observe. Why walk when you can run? If he were a car, Wright is all throttle, no brakes, which means his enthusiasm occasionally has him overshooting the target.

"My dad and my Newman coaches all said the same thing — go 110 percent so even if you're wrong, you're only wrong 50 percent."

One play at a time, one game at a time, Wright looks into the future no farther than his nose. Live in the moment. Coaches love that. Wright aims to please, but the Wildcats staff needs to know one thing. It's their Nov. 2 game in Berkeley. Cal's quarterback is Jared Goff, another true freshman who has people wagging their tongues about Goff potentially being the best quarterback ever to play in Strawberry Canyon.

Wright has seen Goff's act before. Goff was the Marin Catholic quarterback last year when Newman lost in an NCS thriller, 42-37, to that school. After the game, Wright made a promise through a handshake and a smile.

"I'm not going to lose to you again," Wright told Goff.

Will one true freshman get in the face of another true freshman, force a pass that's intercepted and returned for the game-winning touchdown? Does that sound like a dream? Maybe.

"This is everything I ever wanted," Wright said.

He said that Monday. He also might say it Nov. 2. Can Scooby do it? Yes, Scooby can do.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.