Jarius Wright has a pretty good take on what’s required to get Arkansas football out of the ditch it’s been in for the last eight seasons and the leadership may have to come from some talented younger guys.
“They don’t put an age on leadership,” Wright said Wednesday morning with Tye Richardson and Tommy Craft (The Morning Rush) on ESPN Arkansas. “That doesn’t matter.”
It was his high school coach at Warren, Bo Hembree, who pointed out before Wright played a down with the Razorbacks his football IQ. Bobby Petrino agreed.
That know-how about football translated into leadership on the field from early on in his career.
“When I stepped in I always wanted to be a leader,” Wright said. “I didn’t say a lot but I tried to show it by example.”
A lot of that young leadership could come from young receivers like Trey Knox and Treylon Burks. Throw in an experienced quarterback in Feleipe Franks and it’s off to a good start.
“Coach (Sam) Pittman is an offensive line guru so we’re going to be fine on offense up front,” Wright said.
It comes down to having that right mix of players that can actually follow through on a lot of what previous coaches talked about but never got players to actually buy in.
“You have to get the right type of guys, the right type of leaders and guys who put it on the line for each other,” Wright said. “You have to be able to trust each other. You have to be able to look at each other and know the guy beside you is going to do his job. That just comes with the right type of guys.”
But it starts at the top with the guy in charge and Pittman has impressed Wright so far.
“Number one the right coach,” Wright said about what it takes to turn things around. “I think we have that set in place. He’s got the right coaches around him set in place.”
Through eight seasons in the NFL with Minnesota and Carolina, Wright knows having the right assistant coaches is a huge key.
“A lot of it is the right coaching, the right teaching and the right things,” he said.
Wright’s relationship with Burks
When you come from Warren, just about everybody knows everybody else to some extent.
No exception with Wright and Burks.
“I basically watched Treylon grow up as a little kid,” Wright said. “Me and his uncle were pretty good friends and hung out a lot each and every day. I got to watch him grow up and it’s like we’re almost family.”
The price for players turning things around
When Wright was a freshman in 2008 the Hogs were 5-7 that included a big comeback win over LSU in War Memorial Stadium the day after Thanksgiving.
“We all knew we could have had a better year,” he said. “We knew it was a building process and we understood that. We also knew what losing felt like and we knew this next year we didn’t want to lose. We don’t like the feeling of losing. It was contagious and the team wanted to win.”
They improved to 8-5 in 2009 then went on a 21-5 run. It didn’t come easy.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears … that’s for sure,” Wright said of the Hogs’ price to start winning. “I can honestly say there were times that I didn’t know if I wanted to play football anymore. It came to that as far as conditioning, working out each and every day.
“As a young kid it can be a little overwhelming. We worked hard. It wasn’t easy at all. We pushed each other to work hard and we wanted to win.”
Coming up just short in senior season
The last time the Hogs were in the race for the national championship was 2011, but they finished third in the SEC West after losing in the final week to LSU.
The loss still stings.
“We should have played in the national championship game that year,” Wright said. “We should have beaten LSU when we jumped out 14 at LSU. That was the same year LSU and Alabama played in the national championship game and if we’d won (against LSU) we wouldn’t have had to play in the SEC Championship and that would have been us (in the title game). I know it’s history now, but we definitely had opportunities.”
Wright understands now Petrino’s constant pressure
Petrino’s steady barrage on the players during practice each week made things tough on them and it too Wright awhile to actually take the positives from it
“Then I didn’t like it, but now as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized he prepared you for everyday life,” he said. “It was more than football. I didn’t realize the big picture at the time but he prepared you for rough times. This might sound crazy comparing football to life, but he definitely made you a tougher person.”
But he’s still not telling any Petrino stories, despite the fact he did the best impersonation of the former coach and once got caught. Petrino walked in during one of Wright’s “fake Petrino” deliveries.
“I don’t think I should share any of those,” Wright said, laughing. “I don’t think he’d be too happy. But I can tell you I never got it as bad as the quarterbacks. Just know there’s things we don’t want kids to hear.”
Not hearing much from teams during shutdown
After the radio interview Wright said he hasn’t heard a whole lot from NFL teams.
He played five seasons in the NFL and came close to playing in a Super Bowl in 2017. That was followed by a couple of years at Carolina.
Now he’s just waiting on a team to call, but that probably won’t happen until the NFL sets dates for training camps and starts talking to players.
Even without the current coronavirus shutdown the pace on that picks up in June.