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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015

Eagles can’t go wrong with Wright

Hernando Today correspondent


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In a nutshell, not much has gone wrong with Springstead’s varsity football program since the insertion of Daniel Keith Wright at fullback.

The 5-foot-11, 181-pounder was a late-season promotion from the junior varsity ranks as a freshman in 2011.

In that 4-6 season, Wright made his varsity debut, albeit without much fanfare: one carry resulting in zero yards.

Suffice it to say since former Eagles’ skipper Bill Vonada plugged Wright in as a starter in 2012, that move has paid immense dividends.

Over 2012-13, the Eagles have captured 20-of-24 football games (.833), earned back-to-back Hernando County grid titles and hoisted back-to-back district crowns.

Besides setting the Hernando County record for most wins in a season (11) – more than any local squad in nine decades of play – the Eagles became the circuit’s first-ever squad to reach a third playoff round last fall.

During that prodigious two-year run, the 17-year-old Wright was one of the main cogs rushing for a combined 1,874 yards (5.23 yards per carry) while scoring 19 rushing touchdowns.

Through the air, Wright has quietly snared nine passes, averaging 9.78 yards, and has scored once.

On the eve of his third varsity season, he’s one of five Eagle offensive starters returning for head coach Mike Garofano.

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Wright, who was born in Tampa, has called Spring Hill home for the past 12 years.

He vividly recalls his first-ever team sport – playing flag football with the Screaming Eagles at Veterans Memorial Park – at age 5.

He continued playing recreation football until his freshman campaign at SHS.

The athletic Wright branched out and also played hoops. He served as a guard in the Hernando County Family YMCA’s basketball league until he was 16.

At Powell Middle School, he played on the hardwood courts as a sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grader.

He also played fullback under head coach Ron Blackwell for the Panthers as a seventh- and eighth-grader.

To up his speed, he participated in track and field as an eighth-grader concentrating in the sprint, the 100 and 200 meter and 4x100 relay. He recalls that not only did his 4x100 unit set the school record in that event, but he was part of Powell’s Hernando County Middle School Athletic Conference championship team.

Besides a cup of coffee as a sophomore playing junior varsity hoops at SHS, he has strictly stuck to football for the Eagles.

“Football’s always been my favorite sport,” noted Wright. “I’ve always preferred the offensive side of the ball. I love to play defense, but I have a passion for scoring.”

If Wright, who carries a 2.8 grade point average, wasn’t able to play another down for the Eagles, he’s already had a memorable career.

“Being one of two 1,000-yard backs last year, making the Elite Eight in the football playoffs and winning two district titles has been special,” insisted Wright. “Putting up the (school) rushing record against Weeki Wache (246 yards) was right up there, too.”

With only eight of 28 starters back from last season’s magical 11-2 campaign, Wright is optimistic his current team will go out with a bang.

“Our D-line is solid. I didn’t know who Zack Lawrence was a year ago. He was just a freshman. Now, how can you not know him?” said Wright.

On life without his buddy and the 2013 Hernando Today Player of the Year, quarterback Tyler Mahla, “Tyler and I go way back to the Screaming Eagle days,” noted Wright. “It’s a little weird playing without him. Since little league, we’ve always hung out together. I wish him nothing but the best in college.

“With (new Eagle quarterback Victor) Koerick, our relationship is getting better and better.”

After graduating three other offensive All-County selections, tight end Tyler Anderson, right guard Jamison Peppe and right tackle Michael Miara, Wright does not see a drop-off along the pivotal offensive front.

“Our O-line is shaping up as the season goes along,” he described. “I was curious to see how we’d respond losing half our line from last year. But they’re really progressing. (Eric) Stevens is one of my best friends as he’s taken over at tight end. There’s no slack with those guys, it’s work first.”

Most fans who see Wright compete don’t label him as a fullback. He bristles at the notion that he can’t outrun defenses.

Last week against visiting Hudson, in one half of exhibition action he shredded the Cobras for three touchdowns highlighted by 63- and 59-yard touchdown scampers besides catching a pass and racing 44 yards to set up the Eagles’ third touchdown: his 1-yard score.

“I feel like I’m a complete back,” detailed Wright. “I’ve played tailback, fullback and halfback – I’m kind of a combination. There are some guys who can run, but can’t catch the ball. I feel like I can do a lot of things on the field.

“People kind of look down on me because of my size, but when I’m on the field I show what I can do,” he added. “As a fullback, I take what’s presented; I’ll grind it out.”

Despite a county-high 214 carries in 2013, Wright takes pride in protecting the football – he suffered four lost fumbles.

For a program that again led the county in turnover ratio – plus-14 – Wright is keenly aware of ball security.

“Sure, I’d love to break my records from last year, but I’d like to do it without any fumbles,” he said. “I just want our guys to continue making history. I realize that without my O-Line or the receivers blocking downfield we’re not successful.”

Interestingly, Wright’s favorite football player is former Buccaneer Cadillac Williams.

“I always looked up to him. I liked how he ran,” explained Wright. “He wore my jersey number for a long time and I really liked his fast 40-yard time. I’d love to be that fast.”

Prior to taking the field in the Eagles’ 39th season opener Friday at Booster Stadium against Citrus, Wright took a moment for a card of thanks.

“The biggest thing I take away from Coach Vonada was he gave me a chance. He saw something in me as a sophomore,” recalled Wright. “He always pushed me. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to start my sophomore year, but once he gave me a chance, there were a lot of good results.

“Vonada emphasized to me to run downhill and take whatever the defense is giving you. Four yards (per play) is all we need.”

“I have to thank Coach (Dustin) Kupcik, too,” said Wright of the Eagles’ offensive coordinator. “Even after I got hurt last year, he has never given up on me. He’s really helped me improve my speed and getting noticed by recruiters.”

Before trotting out against the Golden Hurricanes, “I’m not really worried about doing this or doing that,” insisted Wright. “All I’m worried about this week is playing Citrus.”

By the Numbers: Daniel Wright (2011-13)

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO



2011 001 000 0.00 00 00

2012 143 688 4.77 09 46 @ RW

2013 214 1,186 5.54 10 57 vs. GAIN 32/246 @ WW

TOT 358 1,874 5.23 19 57 vs. GAIN 32/246 @ WW



2012 03 25 8.33 00 26 vs. FIV

2013 06 63 10.5 01 22* vs. GAIN 1/22* vs. GAIN

TOT 09 88 9.78 01 26 vs. FIV

* Denotes touchdown



2012 09 0 1/1 0 0 56

2013 11 0 0 0 0 66

TOT 20 0 1/1 0 0 122

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