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Thursday, September 4, 2008
Miami game a 'Major' deal for Florida's Wright

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Major Wright can't begin to fathom what going home with a loss would be like.

Home is South Florida, where some of his best friends are diehard Miami fans. "Fear The U," they've been telling him for a while now.

 
  J. Meric/Getty Images
 Florida's Major Wright has bragging rights on the line when his Gators play Miami this weekend.

Wright, Florida's sophomore free safety, knows all about The U. He grew up a Hurricanes' fan, was one of their prime recruiting targets coming out of St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and modeled his game after the late Sean Taylor.

"I've been getting texts and voice messages," Wright said. "I'll check them later. I know what they're about. I couldn't go anywhere this summer without somebody talking about this game.

"I'm focused on football now. I'll respond later."

Perhaps as soon as Saturday night in the Swamp.

And if it's Wright's customary response, grit your teeth. Few players in the SEC hit any harder.

"He's a collision tackler, and that's a good thing," said Chuck Heater, Florida's assistant defensive coordinator and safeties coach. "He's a guy that's looking to knock people out. That's what he does. He causes turnovers and creates receivers looking for him a little bit, and those are all positives.

"The next step is modifying it slightly to make sure he's not out of control and has the balance to make the tackle, and that's where he's matured as a player."

Wright, one of two true freshmen starting for the Gators a year ago in the secondary, hasn't forgotten the lumps he or anybody on the Florida defense suffered in 2007.

There's a reason they finished last in the SEC and 98th nationally in pass defense, and much of that was youth.

"With us being so young, we didn't communicate like we should have. That made it even harder," said Wright, who tied for the SEC lead with four forced fumbles last season.

"My biggest problem was always going for the blow-up shot, but there's more to it than that. I'm better now at reading the quarterback, and we're all better at playing with each other. You can't do it alone, not in this league."

Wright returned an interception 32 yards for a touchdown in Florida's season-opening 56-10 thrashing of Hawaii. The Gators had four interceptions in that game after collecting 11 all of last season.

"That Michigan game stayed with us for a while," said Wright, referring to the 41-35 Capital One Bowl loss a year ago that saw Michigan quarterback Chad Henne shred the Gators for 373 yards passing and three touchdowns.

"We based our whole offseason off that game. We knew we had to get a lot better, and a lot of that was doing a better job of studying the game. I watch a lot more film now than I ever did. I sort of just jumped in there last year as a freshman. I thought I was ready, but I wasn't."

Much of Wright's film study, at least in the offseason, centered around watching former Florida free safety Reggie Nelson, the centerpiece defensively of the Gators' 2006 national championship team.

Nelson is also the standard, according to Florida coach Urban Meyer, that Wright and every other free safety at Florida will be held to.

"That position is critical in our defense," Meyer said. "Major Wright performed, I'd say, adequately last year, good for a true freshman. But for the standard that was set, it was adequate. He's playing much better now and is as high a character young man as we have on this team and a leader.

"I can't imagine running our defense without him right now."

One of Wright's closest friends is Miami receiver Leonard Hankerson. Another high school pal, Anthony Reddick, is the Hurricanes' starting safety.

How close was Wright to joining them at The U? Well, that depends on who you ask.

His mother, Andrea Eluett, told the Miami Herald this week that she essentially nixed any chance of Wright going to Miami after Hurricanes lineman Bryan Pata was murdered in the parking lot of his apartment complex a few hours after practice on Nov. 7, 2006.

"My mom was just being a parent. Like all moms, she was worried," Wright said. "Really, that could have happened anywhere. It didn't make my decision for me. It might have been a part of it, but what it came down to was that Florida was where I felt I needed to be."

Wright admits that he was cheering for Miami the last time the Hurricanes and Gators met (2004 in the Peach Bowl, a 27-10 Miami win).

But, hey, things change.

"I came to Florida to win championships," Wright said. "This is a game we have to win to get there."

And a game he has to win if he wants to go back home.