A large number of New Jersey inhabitants weren't too pleased with North Carolina's 44-12 drubbing of Rutgers on Thursday night, but Jets wide receiver/special teams ace Wallace Wright was not among them.
"It was fantastic. I got there a little late," said the former Tar Heel. "When I got there, it was 3-0, Rutgers. Then we tied it up and it just went downhill from there. I talked to a couple of guys. Corey Holliday is their player personnel guy and he was there when I was there, too."
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Wright, an exercise and sports science major at UNC, totaled 23 catches and four touchdowns during his stay in Chapel Hill. There are a number of current Heels who will join Wright in the NFL, including a talented receiving corps.
"They've got Brandon Tate [4-138-1 touchdown against the Scarlet Knights] and Hakeem Nix [6-63-2 TD]. Brooks Foster was also there when I was there, too," he said. "Butch Davis is definitely turning it around out there — he's changing the culture. They looked good last night, man, real good."
Wright has some friends from school in town this week for the Patriots game. They took in most of the action Thursday from the sideline, but Wright decided to leave early because he wanted to get proper rest before Friday's practice.
"I wanted to beat traffic because we had to come in in the morning to work out," he said. "I had to go home and get some sleep. It was a blowout. It would have been fun to stay there the whole game. I wish I could have."
Wright, a third-year pro, collected three special teams tackles in last week's season-opening win over the Dolphins. He is a core teams player for Mike Westhoff and Kevin O'Dea after having recorded 16 tackles in 2007.
Using a determined approach, Wright often is the first player down the field on kick coverage and he's also a gunner on punt coverage.
"I watch guys I'm going against every week and just go from there. It's really attitude, too," he says. "When I step on the field, I know I want to make the tackle more than anybody on the field. So I go out there with the mentality that I'm going to beat the double team, and if I'm singled, I'm going to beat whoever's in front of me and get down there and make the tackle. That's just the mentality I go out there with."
As a gunner, Wright lines up away from the line of scrimmage with either one or two blockers directly in front of him. His job is to shed blocks — either by heading inside or outside — and get downfield to make a stop.
"I did it in college, too. It's just something I've always done," he said. "I actually look forward to it. Me being a core special teams guy, there's nothing like having their starting corner in a double vise. To me, there's no better feeling than that."
Football is a made-for-TV sport and you rarely get to see the gunner compete against his opponent. You see the punt and the tackle, but you seldom witness the great battle a gunner encounters.
Wright has become very adept at winning his matchups and Westhoff has had him study the best in the past, including the Chargers' Kassim Osgood, a two-time Pro Bowler who sometimes even sees triple teams.
"I don't know if he's a flyer this year, but in the past I had to make a [video] cutup on him," Wright said of Osgood. "He went to the Pro Bowl and that's where I'm trying to get, so I used to study him and see what kind of techniques he used. Coach Westhoff also has had me watch a lot of older guys. I can't even think of their names — some guys 12, 15 years ago who were really good at it, too."
A proud Carolina alum, Wright still returns to Chapel Hill in the off-season with a couple of fellow Tar Heels in Steelers RB Willie Parker and Patriots WR Sam Aiken to work out. He's proud of his school, and the ever-improving special teams performer knows they'll be sending more friends up to the pros soon.
"Now I can actually talk junk in the locker room. We have Calvin Pace from Wake Forest and Jerricho Cotchery from N.C. State," he said. "I have a little bit of bragging rights, so I can talk a little bit in the locker room instead of hearing everyone else talk about their school every week. I can talk about mine."