Amherst Receiver Developing the "Wright" Stuff|
AMHERST, MA - Derrell Wright sometimes daydreams of life in Division I major college football. It's only natural. Blessed with size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), speed (he runs a 4.5 forty) and a wealth of natural ability, he's emerged as arguably the best wide receiver in the New England Small College Athletic Conference and one of the most gifted players in the nation, and people are starting to talk.
"He does things that most kids in Division III football just can't," said Amherst head coach E.J. Mills. "He's the Randy Moss of the NESCAC."
"Derrell has Michael Irvin size and Joey Galloway speed," added former NFL player and Olympic sprinter Bobby Pridgen, Wright's off-season speed coach. "He hasn't even scratched the surface of what he can do."
He has, however, scratched the surface of some big numbers in the NESCAC. In just over two seasons, Wright has caught 85 passes for 1,419 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging a whopping 16.7 yards per catch, drawing ever closer to an all-out assault on the Amherst College record book. In the Jeffs season-opening 30-0 win over Hamilton College, Wright hauled in nine catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns, looking every bit like the Division I talent college insiders think he might be.
"I think about Division I football all the time," said Wright, a junior from Hudson, Ohio. "It would have been an interesting challenge. When I was young, I was a big Penn State fan and dreamed of playing for Joe Paterno. My thought process in high school was that my chances of playing professional football were pretty slim, so why not get a great education and play good football at the same time? In retrospect, I wouldn't change a thing."
Wright already holds the College's single-game record for receiving yards, set as a first-year player in 1998 in a 32-18 win at conference rival Trinity College. He had just six receptions, but they went for 80, 43, 43, 30, 15 and 13 yards, and before he knew it, the skinny newcomer had 224 yards receiving and a new school record. Call it a coming-out party.
"He's probably the best receiver we have had since Freddie Scott, who played 11 seasons in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts and Detroit Lions," commented veteran assistant Tracy Mehr, who coached Scott at Amherst from 1971 to 1973. "Both have a great ability to use their bodies and know how to screen people and go over them, which Derrell is just starting to tap into. He isn't quite as fast as Freddie was, but Derrell is bigger and stronger, which is really saying something."
And he's only getting better. As a first-year player, Wright relied almost exclusively on athletic ability, overpowering smaller, slower defensive backs with his size and leaping ability. Now he concentrates on the game's finer points, such as positioning, blocking and running precision pass routes.
"As a freshman, I'd go out there and have to ask where to go before almost every play," he said. "Coming into this season, I wanted to fully prepare myself and make sure I really knew what I was doing before I want out there."
That meant a rigorous off-season training regimen that included a stint on the Amherst track team and long hours in the college weight room. During the summer months, Wright also enlisted the help of well-known Cleveland-area speed guru Bobby Pridgen, and cut his 40-yard dash time by an impressive .3 seconds.
"Derrell needed to work on his balance," said Pridgen, who spent several seasons with the NFL's Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills. "Once we got his balance centered and his feet striking the ground properly, it was just a matter of getting his legs to turn over. Beyond that, he runs patterns as well as any NFL receiver. I think he can be at least a third-round pick if someone looks at the overall package of what he can do."
All the accolades seem to beg the inevitable question, how did a talent like Derrell Wright wind up in Division III, when athletically he's clearly suited for the bright lights and 50,000 seat stadiums of Division I? Mills thinks he has the answer.
"From his high school films, you wouldn't have thought he was that good," explained Mills, in his fourth season as head coach at Amherst. "We liked him, but if you asked if he was a can't-miss, I would have said no. But when he got here, from day one we were like, Holy Cow! He's at least an Ivy League player, without question. Derrell's a kid who definitely fell through the cracks."
Just a junior, Wright has a lot of football ahead of him and expectations swell with every snap. Yet, with all the talk, he remains genuinely grounded, even when examining the prospect of a shot at the big-money NFL.
"Just to have the opportunity would be amazing to me, but it's not the first thing on my list of things to do when I'm finished at Amherst. I'd love to give it a shot, but if it doesn't work out, I won't be heartbroken. If we can win the rest of our games this season and go 8-0 next year, I could end my football career a happy guy."
Wright and the Jeffs (2-1) host undefeated Colby College (3-0) this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Pratt Field.