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Maintaining the faith in Leon Wright-Jackson


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POSTED: Thursday, August 20, 2009

When it comes to Leon Wright-Jackson, I'm a believer. I remain convinced he can be a great college running back. He's a senior and the clock is running, but he can do it.

Yes, there's evidence to the contrary — the underwhelming statistics, the sparse long runs his first two seasons at the University of Hawaii.

But I continue to believe.

It has nothing to do with the scouting tape against overmatched High School Harrys that helped him to a Nebraska scholarship and that Parade All-America pedigree coming out of Pasco, Wash.

I've seen what he can do. It's in him.

IT WAS two years ago, a sweltering September early evening in Ruston, La., where the Hawaii dreams of a season like no other nearly died two games in.

The Warriors trailed Louisiana Tech by two touchdowns early, until Wright-Jackson broke through the Bulldogs' line and sped through their secondary for a 47-yard touchdown. It was UH's first score in a 45-44 overtime victory. The play displayed Wright-Jackson's rare combination of power, speed and elusiveness.

Without that TD there is no undefeated 2007 regular season and UH does not return to Louisiana for the Sugar Bowl four months later. Heroics later in the game by Dan Kelly, Jason Rivers, Colt Brennan and Gerard Lewis helped secure the win, but it was the run by LWJ in the first quarter that woke up UH.

So far, though, that's pretty much been it. At the time, it seemed like the first of many breakaway TDs to come. But Wright-Jackson peaked in his second game.

He shared playing time with players more skilled as blockers, and finished the year as the team's second-leading rusher with 219 yards on 33 carries and just one other touchdown. His stats last year — 28 carries, 102 yards and a TD — were also what we'd been led to expect from him in one game, not 10.

By now, they were supposed to be bronzing his bust. Instead, they're just calling him one. Some said he was out of shape, some said he was tentative.

He was hurt. Turf toe and other maladies.

“;Little nagging injuries. You just have to know you're going to play on it best you can, and it's going to hurt,”; Wright-Jackson says.

He's the big, fast back everyone covets. But other than one play, it just hasn't happened for him yet. The four-receiver, pass-first run-and-shoot offense isn't ideal for him, but many others have thrived running out of it.

“;It's been a little frustrating. But it's in the past. There's nothing you can do about it,”; he says.

THERE'S ANOTHER reason I believe Leon Wright-Jackson will have a big senior season. Maybe I'm naive, but I prescribe to that notion of good things happening to good people.

He was happy camp broke yesterday; he could get back to his wife, DominiQue, expecting their first child in two months. But he also cherishes his teammates.

“;It was fun, because this team is my second family,”; he said. “;I'm having a blast, I love these guys.”;

There's plenty of competition, but he's running with the first team. He could still be great.

Does he ever wonder if the Nebraska coach who moved him to safety might be right?

“;I don't think about it. Sometimes I catch their games, because I stay in touch with some of the guys, but I have no regrets.”;

He believes, too. And that's what's most important.

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Reach Star-Bulletin sports columnist Dave Reardon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), his “;Quick Reads”; blog at starbulletin.com, and twitter.com/davereardon.