Hawaii linebacker Matt Wright has scored two touchdowns in his last two games against UTEP. He hopes to continue the streak on Saturday.

Wright looks to
extend Miner streak

The senior linebacker has
scored a touchdown in the past
2 games against Texas-El Paso

Wright stuff

By Dave Reardon

When Matt Wright joined the Hawaii football team in 1998, he expected to score touchdowns. But he figured he'd find paydirt as a running back, not returning an interception as he did last year against Texas-El Paso.

Wright sparked the Warriors' 66-7 victory over the Miners with a 90-yard run after picking off a stray UTEP pass.

It was the second year in a row that Wright scored against the Miners. He recovered a fumble on a Miners punt return in the UTEP end zone in Hawaii's 39-7 loss at El Paso in 2000.

"I hope he continues his streak," Hawaii defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa said of Wright, who converted to linebacker two years ago. "It'd be nice if he could get another one, wouldn't it?"

Wright has no logical explanation for why he is always in the middle of things when UH and UTEP -- who meet in the Western Athletic Conference opener for both Saturday in El Paso -- mix it up.

"I'm not too sure. I think I just got lucky the last two times we played them," the fifth-year senior said. "Our defense puts us in position a lot of times to create turnovers, but I think I was just in the right place at the right time."

Lempa and head coach June Jones said there's more to it than that.

"Matt is a hard worker. He's a guy who came out of nowhere last year. (UTEP) was his first start," Lempa said. "We'd actually blown a coverage on that play, but he happened to be there and caught the ball and ran it all the way back. It wasn't just an accident. He's worked real hard on the weights and he's worked real hard studying film to become a better football player."

Wright is one of the few players left whom Jones inherited from former coach Fred vonAppen. Jones said Wright made himself into a capable Division I football player.

"He's paid attention to detail. If he's supposed to be somewhere, that's where he is," Jones said. "Defensive football is as much alignment and assignment as it is being physically able to do it. The reason he's played well is he knows what he's supposed to do and that's what he does. That makes him better than some guy who is physically better than him but doesn't know what he's doing."

Like those of the other fifth-year seniors who endured the winless season of 1998, Wright's story is one of perseverance.

He played in seven games as a special-teamer as a true freshman. After redshirting and nursing an ankle injury in 1999, Wright played mostly on special teams as a sophomore in 2000.

When he got his chance last year, he made the most of it. Wright played in 11 games, starting eight at strongside linebacker, and was in on 51 tackles. Wright, who comes out of the game in obvious passing situations, has been in on eight tackles so far this fall. The 6-foot-1, 222-pound Iolani School graduate has team-highs of four tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks.

"When I first got here, I had in mind where I wanted to be and knew what it would take to get there," Wright said. "It was just a matter of having the opportunity, the chance to get on the field. I got that chance and I think I made the best of it. I probably could have done some things better, but you learn along the way."


The Wright stuff

Name: Matt Wright
Number: 44
Height: 6-foot-1
Position: Linebacker
Class: Senior
Born: Oct. 22, 1979, in Honolulu
High school: Iolani (class of '98)
Career highlights: Started eight games last season. ... Recorded a career-high 11 tackles against San Jose State on Nov. 3. ... Scored his first collegiate touchdown against UTEP on Oct. 13.

UH football

Who: Hawaii (1-1) at Texas-El Paso (1-2)
When: Saturday, 3 p.m. HST
TV: KFVE (Channel 5)
Radio: 1420-AM
Of note: Hawaii has not won at El Paso since 1992

UH Athletics

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