UH just feels right for this RB
Leon Wright-Jackson bides his time
STORY SUMMARY »
On a day when Hawaii slotback Davone Bess grabbed the spotlight and UH cornerbacks Gerard Lewis and Myron Newberry grabbed the stray passes, Warriors running back Leon Wright-Jackson didn't do a whole lot in team drills yesterday in fall camp.
Catch more updates on the UH Sports Extra blog
But Wright-Jackson does possess rare talent that has UH fans dreaming of what the Nebraska transfer might do once the games begin in September. First, he has to develop consistency and earn a prominent spot in the one-back offense. Job One is blocking, and David Farmer and Kealoha Pilares have a head start in knowledge of the Warrior protection schemes.
Wright-Jackson, the first Parade All-American to suit up for UH, is profiled in the Star-Bulletin's weekly feature on a Warrior preparing for the upcoming season.
Also today, a report on Lewis and Newberry. In addition to opposing receivers, the returning starters have to fight off challenges from candidates to take their positions. Both earned a lot of points yesterday toward retaining their jobs.
It takes a long time for Colt Brennan to get off the field after practices -- he must negotiate a gauntlet of fans, reporters and other stray individuals who want a piece of the Heisman Trophy candidate. Read about his pet peeve from autograph seekers.
Around 250 people watched yesterday morning's practice. They didn't get to see some of the high-profile Warriors in action, as linebacker Blaze Soares (shoulder), center John Estes (elbow) and linebacker Solomon Elimimian (hamstring) did not risk further injury. They should all be back in plenty of time for the Sept. 1 opener against Northern Colorado.
After today's day off, the Warriors return with two practices tomorrow, the first day of full pads.
FULL STORY »
Leon Wright-Jackson arrived in Hawaii looking for the one simple thing he and others say he never got while at Nebraska.
It was only four years ago the high school All-American running back took his first, and only, official recruiting trip. The destination was Lincoln, Neb., and for a wide-eyed 18-year-old from Pasco, Wash., it was a visit he wasn't quite ready for.
"I just kind of fell for the materialistic things right away, and didn't think about anything else," said Wright-Jackson, who is now battling for the starting position at Hawaii. "It probably wasn't the right decision. I was a little immature."
Wright-Jackson knew nothing about Nebraska, but was excited to visit a college with its football tradition and national attention. Upon his arrival in Lincoln, he was blown away by the support in the community for Husker football; he received star treatment on his visit. Within minutes of landing in Omaha, nearly 1,500 miles away from home, he was recognized in the airport by Nebraska fans.
He felt like a celebrity and it was the kind of atmosphere he wanted to be a part of, even if he didn't know who his future coach would be.
"To be honest with you I didn't even know who Coach (Bill) Callahan was at first," he said. "I thought it was (Frank) Solich still. I didn't even know he used to coach the (Oakland) Raiders."
Callahan was in the middle of his first season at Nebraska and putting together one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. Without even considering taking any other trips -- a rarity among recruits as highly rated as he was -- Wright-Jackson returned home, decided he had seen enough, and quickly committed to the Cornhuskers.
"He was a big catch and had Nebraska fans ecstatic," Nebraska sports radio talk-show host Kevin Kugler said. "He was considered a big get and is one of the main reasons people were saying that was the No. 1 recruiting class in America."
Husker Nation was excited and it was everything the four-star recruit had imagined. But after his first few practices there, Wright-Jackson realized the Cornhuskers had other plans for him. He wasn't getting many reps in practice at tailback and was listed fourth on the depth chart.
Eventually, he had a talk with Callahan and was moved to defense, where he thought he could see the field sooner. He worked his way up to second on the depth chart at safety. But it wasn't what Jackson envisioned. He got to play a bit at receiver at the end of the year, but he wasn't happy. He knew where he belonged.
"I had a meeting with him after the season and (Callahan) wanted me to play all three positions and I just told him, 'No I'm strictly a running back,'" Wright-Jackson said. "They moved me back to running back and then I strained my back muscle and things just spiraled from there."
Before he knew it, Wright-Jackson was back to square one, sitting at home in Pasco trying to figure out what to do next. He got a phone call from Hawaii secondary coach Rich Miano with an offer to play football at Hawaii.
He quickly said yes. It was a second chance for Wright-Jackson, who concedes he's matured a lot over the last three years. He married DominiQue, his girlfriend of more than 10 years, this past January, and credits her with being his strength during the tough times.
She's enrolling at UH for the fall quarter and arrives later this week. That, combined with the atmosphere surrounding college football in Hawaii, are just a couple of the many reasons Wright-Jackson feels he has finally found a football home.
"At Nebraska it was just like grind, grind, grind no matter how tired you are and that just wasn't for me," he said. "Here it's more relaxed and not high stress. We just want to get the reps clean and get things done."
It's a completely different offense than the smash-mouth style preached at Nebraska; Hawaii emphasizes the passing game. Wright-Jackson has all the physical tools to be a great back, but beating out David Farmer and Kealoha Pilares for the starting job may come down to his ability to block for quarterback Colt Brennan.
"He's the man and we have to protect him," Wright-Jackson said. "There are a lot of big outside linebackers coming at full speed and we have got to have the right technique and flush them out."
It's a big adjustment but Wright-Jackson has shown great maturity in being a team guy, according to running backs coach Wes Suan.
"He seems to be working in that path that he'll do whatever it takes to help the team win," Suan said. "It's going to be a tough decision for Coach (June) Jones on how he uses him and when he uses him."
Wright-Jackson has been spectacular in some practices, not so much in others. Yesterday's practice was not a great one for him; he fumbled once, and stopped another play before it started by moving before the snap.
But on his good days, Jackson appears to be ready to live up to his great potential.
"I just want a chance to play," he said. "When I get that shot to get the ball I'm going to make the best of it."