Daniel Wright Q&A: New Beginnings, Overcoming injuries and Off field Revelations

Former Vacaville Bulldog Daniel Wright believes a book could be written about what he has gone through in his life. Over the last two years, a lot has happened.

Daniel Wright graduated early from Vacaville High School (Ca.) as a member of the 2017 class.

Wright found himself idle at his home in Pocket-Greenhaven, a suburban city in Sacramento, California. He called up a friend who was playing football for Sacramento City College and that connection resulted in a phone call from the head football coach the same night, a visit the next week and he became a Sacramento City Panther.

“…I was almost in tears talking to him. ‘You know I love this sport. You know how much football means to me. I don’t want to just be another statistic to the city and end up falling down the wrong path,’” Wright recalled saying to his friend.

The 5’10, 185 pound, running back representing Fairfield, Ca., finished his first college football season in 2017 with 59 carries, 358 yards, and two touchdowns. He also averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 71.6 yards per game.

The Panthers finished 8-3 (3-2 Big Eight Conference) and lost the Capital City Bowl game to the San Francisco City College Rams 55-21. They started the season winning six consecutive games.

Wright is now at American River College and is joining a Beaver football program that went 10-2 (5-0 Big Eight Conference) in 2017, scoring 40 points per game and averaged 413.5 yards of total offense. They lost the NCFC Championship game to San Mateo College 24-21.

Dimoro Sports: How has the transition to Sacramento City College helped you off the field in terms of academics and college life in general?

Wright: “When I first got to college, to me I loved it. I was really happy that I made it to college in general. Division I or junior college, wherever I started off at I was just happy. The transition was good. It helped me as far as academics and it taught me a lot [about] time management and procrastination.   In college, you can’t really do those things. You got to stay focused and get your stuff done before you go out and do other things. In general, you can’t really mess up because there’s not really any room to mess up. Everything’s just going and going, you’re not even in the classes every day. You probably go twice a week. You got to just stay focused every day, go hard and really study.”

“As far as the field, it was a big transition because guys are bigger, guys are faster and hungrier. They’re at the JUCO [level] because they want to get somewhere. It was really good. I love competition, I love challenges, so the transition was awesome especially because I was coming off an injury. Trying to get back in shape and stuff, I was able to find myself competing with a lot of dudes and really adapted to the new lifestyle of the college athlete.”

Dimoro Sports: You mentioned that you suffered a major injury back in high school, did that alter your game at all?

Wright: “The injury definitely altered my game to a certain extent because it was more of a mental thing. Coming back and going through it all again. Not being able to play football again. I was told by the doctors I was never supposed to [play] and be the same type of person I was before. Being on the field, when I first got back into it, I was dealing with a lot of health issues as far as running and stuff. [It] wasn’t the same because I’ve had bad anxiety since the injury. When I would run, I wasn’t used to any of it. In my head, I’m thinking it’s all just mental because I know I’m a healthy guy. Everything has been clear for me to go so I just got to get past this anxiety stage and be able to really get in tune to the things that I was doing before.”

“Getting back in shape during the summer and stuff, I think Sacramento was a good place for me because of the heat and I would be able to get back in shape really [well] after all the conditioning we were doing and stuff. I would get used to really running and my speed was still good. Everything was still good. Come the first game, I was doing pretty good the first game and I just took a shot to the head and I kind of panicked because it was a real big headshot. I just had flashbacks of everything back in high school so that was affecting my game.”

“…Now I’m kind of playing with a little concern and fear in my head. That really affects your game because you can’t really think about those things being an athlete because one, that brings injuries to the table and two, that affects your focus on the field because you’re not thinking about the things you should be thinking about. You’re running with concern and that’s not good, you got to run free.”

“I had a neurological problem in my head. My body just dealing with everything going on, my body was really starting to break down. I was changing. I wasn’t really speaking the same, acting the same. In my head, everything was the same but around other people, they were just noticing something wrong.”

“I wasn’t noticing it, but I was experiencing different problems like having trouble sleeping, not being able to think. It was just a lot of stuff I was dealing with. One day I had a really bad breakdown and my mom was concerned because she knew things were going on. My thoughts weren’t the same. I was experiencing some really bad thoughts. Suicidal thoughts. It was a lot of things just out of my control, you know what I mean? Thankfully, my mom, I feel like she really saved me because she took me to the hospital and I just woke up with a lot of stuff hooked up to me. My mom was just really concerned and told me that they were going to transfer to a different hospital. I was in and out of the hospital for about a month.”

“That was big overall because everything was going on [and] I wasn’t even fully aware of it. My mind wasn’t the same. That’s a really long story to talk about. Something I could write a book about just how my life changed from September up until March of 2016. It’s something [that] really changed my life and changed my views on everything. There was so much that could’ve made me give up or stop playing even when the doctors told me I couldn’t play anymore. Going from everything’s going so great, to feeling like I hit rock bottom makes me especially happy right now to have been where I was at in high school and to be where I’m at right now in college.”

Photo Credit: Daniel Wright

Dimoro Sports: What were your mindset and expectations going into your offseason workouts with the team?

Wright: “Last season when I came back, I was just determined and happy to play football again. It makes me happy. Football is what I’ve been doing all my life, being able to get it back was just such a good feeling. I was just determined to really lead that semester because I’m an eligible freshman and I still have some school’s talking to me. I was ready to show them who I was. Certain things started hitting me and I really had to get my body back in tune and used to the game. I felt like I really didn’t fall off that much because on the field coaches liked what they’ve seen out of me. My balance and stuff, I’m not going to lie, when I first got back into it I felt so off because I was tripping and falling more. My balance was my real gift. It was my gift that I was born with. I was having trouble balancing my body. I was just off. I was there but I was hitting the ground way too much it seemed like.”

“Everything was starting off pretty good. I was healthy, we were competing. There were some good running backs. There was a cross-town rival, American River [College]. We had a speed back, power back, [and] shifty back. The first couple weeks of the season, I was doing really good. First game, we were really rotating and stuff. I ended up having a pretty good game. I scored my first college touchdown. [The] second game came around [and the] same thing doing pretty good. I scored a big touchdown, about a 55-yarder. To do that my second week in college at 17 because I still hadn’t turned 18 yet, it was really getting me going. I was like man I’m really excited to see what this season brings to me.”

“Come the third week, my uncle had passed away. Another one of my uncles. Since my injury, he had really been keeping me focused. Crazy thing is, we had a really good connection that will be unbreakable because when I was having those suicidal thoughts and stuff, he was the one that saved me from making a bad decision. It came seconds away from that kind of stuff happening. He saved me and to lose him during the season that was really hard for me. He was in critical condition because he got shot in the head. I was visiting from Sacramento to stay in the hospital.”

“Since I got the news, I was going back and forth staying with him in the hospital not going to sleep. It was so hard because of this new college experience, getting used to it and adapting to college. Dealing with this and football, it was big, and it was hurting me. I ended up just playing through the season and not going as hard as I could have because I was dealing with a lot of other things. …I just kept in my mind, let me just finish this season, get used to everything again, get back into detail with things, get my body back in shape and just enjoy this season. Come back next year and make a difference.”

“I know last season was going well because there were schools I was talking to. I was able to talk to Cal-Berkeley again and I went on a visit there to a game when they played Weber State. I was fortunate enough to go watch that game and talk to the coach for a little bit. That was awesome. That was a blessing. It really made me feel so good because it just showed me that they’re people still out there, they’re waiting, and they want to see me succeed. That was awesome.”

Photo Credit: Daniel Wright

Dimoro Sports: What kinds of things did you learn throughout the season that helped you improve your game?

Wright: “Throughout the season I learned patience. I learned patience [because] in college, you can’t really rush things. You can’t just get the ball and go. You got to really read the field, I learned that. As far as being a running back in college, to read the field, read what you see and when you see a hole hit it and go. No thinking about it or no trying to hit the outside. If you see a hole, it’s really all about just hitting it and getting vertical up the field trying to get to the end zone or get as many yards as you can.”

“I was fortunate enough to have a really good coach. He was just on us about ball security and he was so hard-driven about getting up [the] field. …He loved to see the running backs, he loved to see us get yards. He didn’t like seeing us get tackled in the backfield, losing yards and running around too much which none of [us] really did. We were all a good set of backs. Good on the ball security and I think I grew a lot as a running back when it comes to patience and really reading the holes. There have been some really good plays and good games where I just look back, look at myself and how I would stop and adjust to hit a hole. I’ll see one, lower my shoulder and get through it.”

“That’s really exciting as a running back to see yourself grow and do some things that you really didn’t think you would be too good at doing before.”

Dimoro Sports: The Sacramento City Panthers went on a six-game winning streak to begin the season last year so even though you guys weren’t able to win the Capital City Bowl game, what momentum does the win streak give your team?

Wright: “The win streak gave our team [a lot of] momentum and a lot of hope as to what we were going to do with the program. We came in wanting to change the program. Sacramento City hasn’t been up there for a while now like they were back in the day. We were just determined that we were the set of guys, we were going to leave something that season. Coming into that season, we were ready to get it started. To go on a win streak, having some close games, some wake up calls, to get our minds in tune and focus. It gave us a lot of momentum as far as every game we played next, we just didn’t want to lose. If we were to mess up, we wanted to do it during practice. We didn’t want to go into the game and mess up. The guys we had, we all had a good connection with one another. We were there for each other so that plays a big part on the field because you got your brothers back and you’re not going to want to see them fail to often.”

Dimoro Sports: What are some things that you will be focusing on this offseason to take the next step as an underclassman?

Wright: “I’m at American River College now so this offseason has been phenomenal. It has been great. At this new program, all the coaches over there have been awesome. The program is great. The way they coach up guys, the way they get us stronger, their coaching skills as far as helping us be better student-athletes are beyond great. My focus has really been getting stronger right now as an underclassman. Enjoying the moment and making sure my grades get done because in my mind I’m still an eligible freshman.”

“Honestly, I’ve been lying down going to sleep with a little worry because I just know to keep my grades up high above a 2.0. To be able to be that 2.4 guy and get to the university hopefully this December after the season. If not, after next spring. I really think I can do that. As far as just playing football, I’m back in shape now, back to how I was, I feel like I’m back and better than I was when I was in high school. Beyond better than I was in high school because my speed has gotten [better, much better]. I’m one of the top guys at American River College with my speed. Once we get pads back on, it’s going to be awesome because I’ve got some new techniques as a running back as far as being slow to, fast through and being able to read differently.”

“I feel like my football IQ has [gone] up. I’m determined and just ready for the football season because I’m real hungry as far as dealing with a lot of things. I’ve been facing adversity all my life, you know this. There is a lot of stuff that has been going on at home. A lot of stuff that’s been going on this past month honestly. I started off this month, I was in a car accident, the car went airborne, the car flipped, rolled three times, airbags didn’t even go off and I ended up upside down. I was stuck in the car and I was able to get out of there, bashed open the windows and come [out] with not one scratch, not one bruise nothing. All these that go on and like I said before, God’s not going to take a gift or your blessing unless He wants to take it from you.”

“I believe He’s truly doing all these things to [make] me better and prepare [me] for the next level, Division I football and wherever it goes from there. You’re going to have to face a lot of things [and] deal with a lot of things being at certain points in your life. Being ahead of certain people when [they] are looking up to you, He’s going to have to prepare you for those things and I just look at all those things as preparation [making] me better as a person.”

Dimoro Sports: In looking at your Freshman highlights, I just saw really what I saw at Vacaville, speed, explosiveness between the tackles, elusiveness etc. How do you believe your game has changed if at all?

Wright: “I believe my game has changed because I’m more physical as a running back. Ready for contact. As far as seeing my holes and reading my holes, I think my vision has gotten way better because if you look at the film and see the holes I was getting through, the little creases, the way I get through them and squeeze through them, I feel like that has gotten way better. It’s a great part of the game. If you look at running backs like Le’Veon Bell, he’s real patient in the backfield. He finds that, and he gets through. That’s great as a running back. That’s great technique. It’s awesome because it gives your linemen a chance to set up and it gives you a chance to see where the defenders are going. Play them out of their game and get to the hole is your life’s passion. Your coming pretty patient, not too slow not too fast, just right and you hit them with your quick speed. It’s like they’re shocked. You get past them and It’s like a cheat code for [running backs.”

Dimoro Sports: On the recruiting end of things, what do you hope your time at American River College will bring for you?

Wright: “I hope my time here will bring better focus in being a student. Since high school and after everything happened, I’ve been thinking about football, football, football and my determination in school hasn’t been the same as it used to be. So, the coaches, obviously, they’re hard on school… school first, education. I’ve been able to get real comfortable out on the football field again.…I’m back to the point where my focus in school has gotten [better] again. I’m more relaxed and comfortable in school, able to give it my all and get my best grades. When I got to college, I just wanted to leave as far as JUCO because I was able to [understand] the fact that I went JUCO because I was so ready for the next level. I could never see myself because everything was going so right.”

“I’m the first to go to college in my family and that’s another way it was hard for me to wind up in college. I got into every school I applied to, but I didn’t want to go there based on grades. To me, it’s been about football and I don’t know if that was a bad decision but, in all honesty, I didn’t know GPA really mattered when you get to college. I was coming to college comfortable with being average having B’s and C’s not shooting for my A’s and B’s. I still finished my first semester with a 3.6 but I could’ve easily finished with about a 3.8.”

“[Those] were just all lessons so that you could be that type of person and that’s what I’m going to be able to do this time around while I’m at ARC. Relaxed, comfortable, I can’t wait for the season because in my mind I’m just ready to play football again. Have fun and everything will come into place. I truly believe that. I’m not worried about anything.”

Dimoro Sports: What are your goals personally and for your team going into the 2018 season next fall?

Wright: “My goal would be to be the best teammate I could be, be able to contribute to my brothers and help them as they’re helping me get to the next level. It’s not something I can do on my own. It’s a team thing. I would want them to give it their all as I’m giving it my all and together we can all allow schools to see us and see why we’re still doing this at the JUCO level.… I just want to be able to really do my best for my teammates and my coaches [for] just giving me the chance allowing me to be on the field again doing what I love and show everybody and prove to everybody that you don’t give up. People deal with things, people go through things but if you keep your head [on] your shoulders and you got to be able to get through the struggle. I say it’s a beautiful struggle because, in the end, everything is going to be great. You’re going to be able to be something and sit back and tell another kid that’s going through it that it happens, and you could be able to talk to somebody and help them get through something they’re dealing with.”