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Florida Football

Major Wright: From All-American to Author (Part One)

May 15, 2020
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FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
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THREE-PART SERIES: FORMER FIVE-STARS WITH AN ASTERISK

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Most people know Major Wright as a star safety on one of the greatest teams in college football history who delivered a massive hit in the national championship game and went on to enjoy a seven-year professional career.

However, Wright’s story isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, as he endured numerous challenges during his football journey and beyond. Wright chronicles these obstacles and provides inspiration in his newly released book “Major Pain: Confessions of a Smash-Mouth Safety.”

To commemorate the release of his book, Inside The Gators caught up with Wright to write our own ‘book’ on his football career and post-retirement activities.

Related: Part II Post Florida Years

Chapter I: Recruiting

As a standout safety at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Major Wright started getting college offers after he made 71 tackles and 10 interceptions as a sophomore in 2004.

By the time he was a senior, his recruitment had blown up. He was considered one of the top safety prospects in the country, and he played in the 2007 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

“My senior year was kind of hectic for me,” Wright said. “I had some of everybody offering me a scholarship.”

He eventually narrowed his long list of potential suitors down to two: Florida and Ohio State. He committed to the Gators eight days before signing day. He said the environment surrounding the program during his official visit and the quality of the players UF already had committed won him over. The Gators’ star-studded 2007 class included the likes of Cam Newton, John Brantley, Aaron Hernandez, Chris Rainey, Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden, Ahmad Black, and Mike and Maurkice Pouncey.

“I wanted to win a national championship,” Wright said. “In order for that to happen, I had to have some type of great recruiting class, and we ended up having the No. 1 recruiting class. Gainesville is only four hours away from Fort Lauderdale, so that’s an easy ride for my family. Light on their pockets and an easy, quick trip.”

His close relationship with five-star receiver Deonte Thompson also played a role in his decision, he said.

“We was just like, ‘Bro, wherever you go to school at, I’m going to go to school there. We both going to be at the same school,’” he said. “I thought he was playing. I thought he was joking, but we went to every official visit together so we could gauge each other out. ‘Bro, how you feeling about this school?’ ‘I like this school; I feel good.’ I don’t think a lot of people know that, but we ended up picking Florida together.”

Chapter II: Freshman phenom

Elite high school players don’t always enter college with the correct mentality. For two or three years (and sometimes longer), their families, college coaches, friends, fans, and others tell them how incredible they are. Recruiting analysts put stars next to their names and compare them to NFL players.

To combat these over-inflated and clashing egos, Urban Meyer and his staff were known for ‘derecruiting’ the freshmen, or making things extremely uncomfortable and challenging for them. Meyer wanted to humble them and let them know that they’re nowhere near as good as they think they are to get them to buy-in to the coaching they received.

While Wright got “chewed out a lot” as a freshman, he didn’t think his freshman year was all that tough. He thinks he did a great job of listening to the coaches and being coachable from the beginning. He didn’t need an eye-opening moment.

“I made a lot of mistakes,” he said. “Being a freshman, that’s what you do. You don’t know, so you just do what you know best. I got chewed out a lot. Coach [Chuck] Heater stays chewing me out. I stayed getting chewed out, but I still was very coachable. I didn’t let that dictate the outcome.”

His goal when he enrolled at UF over the summer was to earn a starting job right away. Unfortunately for him, things didn’t work out that way. He wasn’t in the starting lineup for the first four games. However, he didn’t let that disappointment discourage him.

“I used that as ammunition to focus on me and make sure when my opportunity does come, I capitalize off of it. And that’s exactly what I did.”

In the third game of the season against Tennessee, starting free safety Kyle Jackson missed a couple of tackles in a row, so Meyer pulled him and inserted Wright into the game. Wright said that moment served as a powerful lesson to always be ready because you never know when your number will be called.

Wright made his first career start two weeks later against Auburn. He ended up starting seven games as a freshman and was named a Second Team Freshman All-American by Rivals.

Chapter III: Super teams

The 2008-09 Gators teams are arguably among the most talented teams in college football history, as 24 players from those two teams were eventually selected in the NFL Draft. A handful of them are still playing in the NFL.

The intensity and competitiveness in practices for those teams are well-documented. They often faced stiffer competition during one-on-one periods in the spring than they did in games.

“It made the games so much easier,” Wright said. “It made us play so much faster because we’re guarding guys like Percy Harvin in practice, Aaron Hernandez, Riley Cooper, we got the Pouncey's on offense. On defense, we’ve got [Jermaine] Cunningham, we’ve got Dunlap, we’ve got Brandon Spikes, we’ve got Janoris Jenkins. We’ve got all these guys. Ones going against ones, we can’t do nothing but get better.”

While a lot of people remember the 2008 Gators for having one of the most explosive and versatile offenses ever assembled, Wright said the defense had some days in practice where they got the better of the offense.

“It was battles where this day, the offense would win, the next day, we’ll win,” he said. “So, we’ll go strike for strike. We were battling. We were battling, and I think that’s what brought the fight out of us. Each and every day, it’s like, ‘The defense going to win.’ ‘Nah, offense going to win.’ We kind of get in a competition with just who going to win before practice.”

As competitive as the players were, their intensity might’ve been matched by their head coach. Meyer was a master at firing up and motivating his players while also keeping them from turning on each other.

“He’s one of the greatest coaches of all time because every college he go to, he makes it shake,” Wright said. “Him winning two national championships at Florida, that’s elite. And for him to go to Ohio State and to put that school into a better situation, it’s amazing. He’s a great coach.”

Chapter IV: Dan Mullen

Though they were on opposite sides of the ball, Wright said then-offensive coordinator Dan Mullen made a great impression on him with his ability to relate to the players and the high level of energy he brought to the team.

“Dan Mullen was one of the coolest coaches on the team,” he said. “He was great. The energy he has now, he hasn’t lost it. He had that same energy back then. He was always a cool coach, a players’ coach. I rock with him, and I rock with him now. I love what he’s doing for our program.”

Wright is pleased with Mullen’s 21-5 start as Florida’s head coach. While some fans have lingering doubts about Mullen’s ability to compete for championships due to good-but-not-great recruiting, Wright believes he has the program headed in the right direction.

“He’s definitely turned it around,” he said. “For us as fans, he brings back hope, and that’s what you want. You want to be able to say, ‘OK, are we improving?’ and each and every year we improve. I think we on the right track. I don’t feel like he needs to fix anything. I feel like he needs to continue what he’s doing and be a great coach and don’t buy into what people think because that don’t get you nowhere. Just continuing to do him, and success [is] going to come.”

Chapter V: The Hit

Wright is responsible for one of the most iconic defensive plays in UF history.

On the third play of the 2009 BCS National Championship Game, Oklahoma wide receiver Manuel Johnson ran a double move on the left side and got behind Haden. Quarterback Sam Bradford pump-faked to his right and got Wright to lean that way. As the ball sailed toward Johnson for what would have been an easy touchdown against a Big 12 defense, Wright displayed uncoachable closing speed and blasted Johnson onto the Florida sideline with a vicious hit to the facemask.

“I had no choice but to make that play because before the game, I told the DBs, ‘I’m laying it all out on the line for y’all,’” he said. “‘So, no matter what, I’m going to be there for y’all.’”

More than a decade later, the play still finds its way onto highlight reels and social media posts. Wright isn’t surprised by how legendary the hit has become.

“It was a tone-setter to let them know that we were going to be there, and that had never really happened in the national championship game, on that stage,” he said. “I feel like it was perfect.”

It’s unlikely that a hit of that caliber could ever happen in a national championship game again, at least legally. The hit would likely cost the Gators 15 yards and a starting safety if it happened today.

“It would 100 percent be called targeting, and they probably would put me in jail,” Wright said. “They would probably try to lock me up and throw away the key if I was to do that now for attempted murder.”

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Visit www.majorwright.com to purchase your copy. ‬

 
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