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Wright-Jackson learns to lead


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POSTED: Friday, August 07, 2009

Leon Wright-Jackson briefly mulled over the difficulties that haunted him in the two years since he arrived to play running back at the University of Hawaii.

There was the promising start—a 47-yard touchdown burst as a sophomore against Louisiana Tech in 2007—and the head-scratching lack of playing time that followed.

There were the nagging injuries of his junior season, a turf toe followed by an ankle issue followed by more persistent pains. “;Action”; Jackson didn't see much of it that season: 28 rushes for 102 yards.

But all that is behind him now.

Wright-Jackson, a Parade All-American at Pasco High School (Wash.), didn't want to have any regrets for his final year as a college player. He prepared feverishly for his last chance to make an impact.

He called up his competition over the summer—including newcomers Alex Green and Chizzy Dimude as well as converted back Inoke Funaki—to arrange workouts and drills to maximize their collective potential.

“;We really push each other. That's what we all talked about,”; the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Wright-Jackson said yesterday. “;That's what I told all the new guys: push each other. Whoever starts, whoever starts, you know. But the whole thing is, we have to get better as a team. So we're going to be pushing each other. We're not going to slack off on each other—we're going to make each other work.”;

Funaki got his first taste of running back in the spring after switching from quarterback. He is grateful for Wright-Jackson's selfless approach to improvement and calls him “;kind of the coach other than Coach Smitty (Brian Smith).”;

“;Not only do we see that he's hungry himself to be better, but for the whole team,”; Funaki said. “;He's helping the other guys behind him work hard and get better, just in case something happens. Then there's people who can pick it up. A lot of leadership, definitely a good guy in trying to help. He speaks more about the team.”;

The position was considered competitive to open fall camp, with no clear-cut advantage to either the experienced Wright-Jackson or the versatile Funaki.

Wright-Jackson is trying to stay within the moment with the end of his career in sight. He worked to improve himself in offseasons past, but never to the extent that he dedicated himself this summer.

“;I did it, but I wasn't as consistent as I was this time,”; he said. “;It's the last time I'll probably ever put a helmet on. Just gotta go out there, put everything out, simulate games, and that's what we worked on.”;

If he's added new wrinkles to his style, he's hesitant to give them away. But his speed, once he hits full stride, remains as formidable as when he arrived as a transfer from Nebraska.

“;We run the plays, and if it's there, I'm hitting it hard,”; Wright-Jackson said. “;I know my faults from last year, and I'm correcting them.”;

Whether or not he ends up with the starting job for the season opener Sept. 4 against Central Arkansas, Wright-Jackson wants to leave an impact with the Warriors as they try to regain the Western Athletic Conference championship.

“;Just to show that I'm a leader, and I'm going to lead by example,”; he said. “;I may not be as verbal as others, but just going to lead by example and help out everybody who needs help.”;