Padecky: Scooby Wright stays humble as Heisman Trophy talk gets louder (w/video)

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You think you’ve seen it and heard it all, but here’s Scooby Wright on the phone, and after 20 years voting for the Heisman Trophy, I now am going to speak to the first Heisman candidate I know personally.

Wright is the former Cardinal Newman star, now a sophomore linebacker at Arizona, the only defensive player on various Heisman Watch lists, including ESPN and CBS Sports. Wright is the son of Phil and Annette, who should receive the Parental Heisman — he’s so humble, you have to ask Scooby to talk about himself; he won’t.

“Years from now,” Wright said, “no one is going to care or remember how many tackles I had in a game. But if we beat Oregon, people will remember that in 2014 Arizona won its first Pac-12 championship in school history. That’s what I want.”

So, thanks Phil, for volunteering what will happen next week. It’s a trip across America. All expenses paid. Ask Scooby and he’ll say, “I think I’m going to North Carolina and Orlando but I’m not really sure.” Dad has the details.

On Monday, Wright, his grandpa Phil and his parents will board the university’s Lear jet and fly to Charlotte to see if Scooby wins the Bronko Nagurski Award, given to the nation’s outstanding defensive player. On Tuesday, the Wrights will fly to Houston to see if Scooby wins the Rotary Lombardi Award, given to the nation’s top defensive lineman or linebacker. On Thursday, Team Scooby will fly to Orlando, Fla., to learn if he’s won the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the nation’s best defensive player. On the same day in Orlando, Wright will learn if he wins the Walter Camp Foundation Award, given to the nation’s best player.

Wright, named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year, is a finalist for all four awards. As if all the pats on the back could stop there. They don’t. On Monday, Wright was speaking to one of Arizona’s player personnel people when the school official brought up the Heisman.

“Do you think I have a chance to go to New York (presentation site)?” Wright asked.

“Oh, you’re going,” was the reply.

“Really?” Wright said gap-jawed. The way he spoke, Wright was a 3-year-old kid at Christmas who opened up a box and said, “Mommy, I got a red tricycle!”

Don’t be misled by Wright’s self-effacing reaction. Wright may be shy to a compliment, will credit his teammates to a fault, and deflect praise like it’s an incoming bullet, but he is no shrinking violet on the field. He is a hammer who sees nails everywhere.

“May God have mercy on my enemies because I will not.”

That’s the tattoo on his left shoulder. Might as well be inscribed across his heart. Once Wildcats fans learn that this is his motivating motto, it’ll be the next bumper sticker in Tucson. And the Scooby legend and influence will continue to morph into something approaching rock-star status.

The following scene took place at a Mexican restaurant in Tucson called Guadalajara. Phil goes to all of Arizona’s games, home and away. Phil was in a restroom, using the urinal when Phil mentioned his son’s name.

“You know Scooby?” said the man next to him.

Phil allowed that he did.

“Can I meet him?” the restroom patron asked.

“Sure,” said Phil, Santa Rosa JC’s head softball coach, “but wash your hands first and we’ll go outside.”

As dad told the story, he sighed, a bewildering contentment.

“People will chase him into restrooms,” said Phil, himself an All-State fullback at SRJC and a Long Beach State fullback and guard. “I have lost my identity. I am Scooby’s dad. He gets swamped everywhere he goes in Tucson. I think he damn near could run for the governor of Arizona.”

A legend carries that kind of following and it is no exaggeration Wright has been afforded that status. He has the skins on the wall to prove it. Wright is the only player in the FBS to rank nationally in the top five in each of these categories: tackles (139), sacks (14), forced fumbles (six) and tackles for a loss (27). Scooby is a three-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, the first Arizona player to do so. Twice he was the Walter Camp Foundation (national) Player of the Week. His 19 tackles versus UCLA this season were the most by an Arizona player in 15 years.

A photograph of Wright having Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici in a headlock has gone viral under this heading: “Scooby Wright Will Take Your Head Off.”

Given all the great athletes in the Empire who’ve had stellar careers, Wright’s ascension to national prominence is almost unprecedented locally. The only athlete from around here who knows what Wright is experiencing is Jerry Robinson, the former Cardinal Newman linebacker, a three-time consensus All-American at UCLA who finished 10th in the 1978 Heisman voting.

“Jerry and I talk every other day,” said Wright, 6-1, 248 pounds. “He keeps telling me to enjoy myself, have fun and don’t stress.”

Easier said than done, so goes the cliché. In this case, it doesn’t apply. The football field is home for Wright, a place of comfort, as odd as it sounds. It’s a knowable universe for him, a football game, that pushes him to that Zen moment in which . . .

“He wants to see the play before it develops,” said his father.

Consider the commitment contained in that sentence. Blend that with his humility, work ethic and instincts, it is laughable to see those nine articles Wright has glued/taped on his dorm room wall. Nine articles were written when Wright was a Newman senior, nine unflattering articles that disregarded Wright as a college prospect for being too small, too slow, too unathletic, too risky for a college scholarship.

One in particular offers juicy, delicious irony. The CBS college website (247sports.com) had Wright listed as the 94th best inside linebacker graduating from high school in 2013.

Wright is now on CBS’ Heisman Watch list. Yes, Wright gloats — silently, quietly. It’s not his style to peacock. To Phil’s knowledge, he knows of only one example in which his son displayed ego and attitude about personal recognition. Wright is not listed as a Dick Butkus Award finalist, given to the nation’s top linebacker.

“How can that happen?” Phil asked. “He’s up for all these defensive awards and he’s not on the linebacker list? Doesn’t make sense.”

The Butkus snub nips at Wright’s pride, to the point his ego uncharacteristically explodes, if you call it that.

“Dad, I’m a little salty about that,” Wright tells his father. That’s it. Scooby is “a little salty.” Geez, Scoob, at least use one curse word. He would if he could. But Phil and Annette taught their son well. Respect and perspective, can’t live a good life without both.

So I can’t tell you who is going to get my Heisman vote. Not allowed. But after years of interviewing athletes who hugged themselves so much they lost feeling in their arms, I can tell you my sentimental choice in 2014.

He’s a guy — and I know this isn’t possible — who I actually felt blush over the phone during our interview. Seemed embarrassed. Like I got the wrong number and was interviewing the wrong person. Almost wanted to apologize for the intrusion.

Weird. The bigger the talent, the bigger the baby, that’s been my experience. Not this guy. Not now. Not ever. The NCAA should have an award for this. The Scooby Wright Award. Given annually to the college football player who best exemplifies perspective, who doesn’t feel he is at the center of the known universe. Who knows? Maybe even the NFL will think it’s a good idea.

To contact Bob Padecky email him at bobpadecky@gmail.com.

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