During the beginning weeks of the off-season, Inside the Gators will take an in-depth look at how last season went for Florida's 2019 signees who redshirted with our Redshirt Report series. Today, we focus on how this past season went for running back Nay’Quan Wright.
Freshman running back Nay’Quan Wright got lost in the shuffle during the 2019 season – and not just because he’s listed at 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds.
Veterans Lamical Perine, Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis were well ahead of him on the depth chart, and the Gators leaned heavily on their passing attack after the first month of the season. Wright, a four-star prospect out of Carol City High School in Miami Gardens, played in just three games, carried the ball 12 times and redshirted.
Redshirting can be challenging for some players. Throughout his football career, Wright was one of the best players on his team and was told how good he was by just about every college coaching staff in the country during his recruitment. His high school coach, Benedict Hyppolite, said Wright is optimistic by nature and understands that his development as a running back is a process.
“I believe he’ll be a great player,” Hyppolite said. “I believe he’s going to have a great career. Just continue to run the marathon. Life is not a sprint; it’s a marathon, and he knows that was one of my biggest components when I was his head football coach. That’s all I preach.”
Wright used his redshirt year to adjust to the college game and learn the position better from his coaches and more experienced teammates, Hyppolite said.
Hyppolite had no doubts that Wright would approach his redshirt year with the correct attitude. He missed most of his junior season of high school with an injury and never got discouraged or changed his work ethic.
“He always stayed committed with his academics,” he said. “He committed really to work and always remained optimistic about a lot of different things. He just handled his day-to-day business accordingly as if he was continuing to play. I know him as a person, I know his integrity and what he stands for. I know he’s going to continue to work until his number is called.”
When Wright eventually works his way onto the field, he’ll bring versatility to the offense. He’s shifty, good at making catches out of the backfield and more physical than you might think for a guy his size. If you watch his high school film, he might remind you of Jacksonville Jaguars Great Maurice Jones-Drew.
“He’s a game-changer,” Hyppolite said. “At any given time, he’s going to change the game and make a play for you. Somebody you can trust. Somebody that’s going to go 110 percent each play. So, he’s a solid back. He can catch out of the backfield. He can run in between the tackles, and he can pull away from you.
“Without him having the football in his hands, he can block, he can buy time for the quarterback. He could be a lead-blocker. He’s a team-player.”
Given his diminutive stature, it’s reasonable to wonder if he’ll ever be capable of becoming a workhorse back. Hyppolite said he’s seen smaller running backs have a lot of success before, and he thinks Wright plays bigger than his size.
“I know he’s fast,” he said. “I know he’s physical. I know he’s tough. He’s got grit. I know he loves the game of football; he plays with a different passion. I know he played in one of the most competitive regions in high school football in the state of Florida, being South Florida.”
Perine played his last game with the Gators in the Orange Bowl, but Wright’s chances at significant playing time in 2020 still don’t seem very good. Pierce figures to be the featured back with Davis and Miami transfer Lorenzo Lingard (if he’s awarded immediate eligibility) providing a pair of quality reserves for UF to lean on. Then there’s redshirt sophomore Iverson Clement, who could receive more snaps this spring.
Wright hasn’t shied away from adversity or competition yet, and Hyppolite doesn’t expect him to start now.
“Everything in life is all about timing,” he said. “Like I say, he’s a very optimistic young man that has been handled a tough hand, and he’s just waiting for an opportunity, waiting for a chance, and, if my number is called, I’m going to continue to do what I’m always accustomed to doing and that’s working hard, being the hard-worker, focusing on the things I control academically.”