Oct. 18, 2008
The Wright One
MARYVILLE, Mo.-All-America wide receiver Kendall Wright is typically the smallest guy on the field and always the most electric on game day. He's listed at 175 pounds, but his coach, Mel Tjeerdsma, swears he's not an ounce over 160. His height of 5-feet-11-inches may be generous as well, still there's not a bigger Bearcat attraction on Saturday's than No. 4.
Wright has never cared about stats (he had no clue he'd caught a career-high 11 passes against Pittsburg State), but his numbers are worth mentioning. His 215 catches are the third-most in program history. With 63 yards today, he'll become the fifth Bearcat with 3,000 yards receiving. He's also scored 20 touchdowns.
Did I mention he returns kicks? He's done so close to 140 times. Wright has returned 101 punts for more than 1,100 yards and two scores.
Despite numerous hits in the return game and catches in traffic over the middle, durability has never been an issue for Wright. He's played in 50 collegiate games and started nearly all of them since his redshirt freshman season of 2005.
Wright was a quarterback and safety at Sulphur Springs High School in Texas. He was also a state-runner up in hurdles and a powerlifter in the 148-pound division.
It wasn't until his senior year at Sulphur Springs that the quarterback with 4.3 speed switched to wide receiver, and it wasn't until his first game as a Bearcat that he returned a punt.
"I was the third- or fourth-string return man as a freshman," said Wright. "Andre (Rector) had gotten tired against Nebraska-Omaha and coach looked around for someone to go in and return the punt. He saw me and told me to go out and fair catch it if I had to. I never returned a punt in high school, but I took my first one 30 yards and have been back there ever since."
Though many of his teammates today describe him as quiet and low key, Wright was brash when he first arrived on campus. On the practice squad in 2004, Wright would come to practice with a piece of paper with his autograph on it tucked away in his helmet. When he burned veterans like Diezeas Calbert or Troy Tysdahl, he'd pull out the autograph and hand it to them.
"I don't know what to say about myself," said Wright. "I'm quiet half the time and crazy the other half. I was getting big headed back then."
Sometimes his craziness shows on the field. Last year's flip into the end zone against West Texas A&M is a good example.
"That probably popped into his mind at about the 5-yard line," said Tjeerdsma. "Anything like that doesn't really shock me. He's got a good sense of humor, but sometimes it's a little hard to understand.
"He took an unbelievable hit in that game. He looked like a helicopter when he got spun around. His resiliency has always impressed me. He always finds a way to bounce back."
Wright bounced back in a big way in last year's homecoming contest against Washburn. After catching two passes through three quarters, Wright caught the game-winner from Joel Osborn on 4th-and-8 from the 19-yard line.
"It started out the worst game of my life," said Wright. "I couldn't catch anything and couldn't run because of a pulled groin.
"I saw Joel eyeing me on that last play and thought, man, I haven't caught a ball all game so I better catch this one. It ended up being one of my most memorable games even though it started out as one to forget."
Wright's 11-catch, 157-yard performance at Arrowhead Stadium two weeks ago was memorable as well, but in a different way. The Arrowhead game is one of the few his dad, Sigmond Wright, gets to see during the year.
"It's always special to play there," said Wright. "I always try to do my best to impress him."
Wright plans to catch up with many of his friends and family in Texas after graduating next summer. Many haven't seen him much in the last five years.
But his family here is what Wright says he'll miss most about Northwest.
"I was going through some rough stuff with my family when I arrived here, but 2005 was like a Cinderella story. We went from nobodies to fighting it out and playing for a championship. That was special. I'd never bonded with the team, but everybody was like my brother during that run through the playoffs and it was special to me."
Wright is a corporate recreation major with a minor in coaching. He hopes to coach someday, but would also like to be a personal trainer for teenage athletes.
"When you consider his size, his accomplishments are pretty good," said Tjeerdsma. "He's made a lot of good things happen for us in his four years."
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