The California recruiting class just keeps getting bigger. In eight days, Cal has nearly doubled the size of its class, hauling in six new commits, the latest being Markus Wright, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound outside linebacker out of Columbus (Ga.) Jordan.
Of all the commits, Wright is probably the second-least heralded, behind out-of-nowhere JuCo defensive tackle commit Russell Becker. There’s a reason not many folks know about Wright: He’s never been farther west than Alabama.
Wright tallied 95 tackles last season, 13.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, 3 QB hurries and one interception to go along with 23 catches for 346 yards and five touchdowns as a tight end, but only started going to showcase camps this summer – including The Opening Regional. It was the first showcase camp he’d ever been to.
He went to college camps as a freshman and a sophomore, but didn’t know how big-time recruiting went down. Instead, he sat down at his computer, and started sending emails. Then, he observed the recruitment of Russell Ude.
“I saw the big hype about him, that he was a pretty big recruit, and when he made his decision for Cal, I saw it on Twitter, and I was like, ‘Wow, I guess Cal has some good things going on.’ That’s what originally made me seek Cal, and see that some people are going out west,” says Wright. “Every night, after I’d come home from workouts, I used to sit down and I would send emails to about 10 colleges a night, to every coach on their roster. I would send out emails, putting out my contact information, hoping for a reply. Hoping that someone would invest in me and give me the opportunity to play at the next level. Cal was one of the schools that I reached out to, and Cal was one of the schools that gave me the opportunity.”
Shortly after Wright and his mother – Tadema Willock – moved from Thomaston, Ga. (“a really rural community, without too many people,” Wright says) up to Columbus, to be closer to Wright’s step-father, who worked there as a medical laboratory technologist, he began hanging around the Columbus Lions, an Arena Football League franchise.
“When we first moved up here, I wanted to play football, and I started going to some of the games, and the coach wanted me to be his water boy,” says Wright. “So, I basically worked my way up to an intern, and he really liked the way that I worked. He liked my passion for the game. He liked my discipline, and he knew that I had to learn it from somebody.”
Wright helped head coach Jason Gibson run the team on a day-to-day basis, doing “everything the head coach doesn’t want to do,” making sure players had their equipment and running errands. He’s been around the organization now for eight years.
“All these guys are professionals,” Wright says. “We actually have a guy that played for UCLA. We’ve had people that went to Florida State, Georgia, and they’ve all been through the same thing that I’m going through. I get a lot of advice from them. Coach Gibson played at Maryland. I get a good feel for the recruiting process, and I get a lot of advice from those guys. It’s something that I’m faithful for.”
As Wright became more and more a part of daily organization life, Gibson began conversations with Willock – the source of Wright’s work ethic.
“My mom bought into it, and she loves football, so she wanted to become more a part of the organization,” Wright says. “She started off with little things, providing food for the team, supporting the team, and then, she worked her way up.”
Willock has now been the general manager – yes, the general manager -- of the Lions for five years. She is the first female general manager in Arena Football history. She climbed that mountain with just two years of school at Columbus Technical College. She became a professional football general manager without a college degree.
“She made it happen,” says Wright.
Just like his mother, Wright made his football future happen. After spending those long nights emailing coaches, he finally connected with Cal linebackers coach Garret Chachere, who paid him a visit out in Georgia.
“He understood where I was coming from,” says Wright.
After Wright got his offer from the Bears, he remembered the lessons he’d learned from his time working with the Lions.
“When I started to get my offers, they said, ‘Be patient, and that one offer that you get, you’ll have an amazing feeling for it,’” Wright says. “They said to stay positive, stay humble and continue to work hard, regardless of what I get, and regardless of what I don’t get.”
So, Wright began to research.
The gumption Wright showed in pursuing Cal and other schools – the same pluck that earned his mother her historic station – is something that Wright recognized in Chachere, in his future teammates and in the program as a whole.
“I love the energy,” he says. “I love the energy and the vibe that the commits who are already coming have, and I love how Cal has that grit to them. They have that aggressiveness, and that will to win. That’s something that I want to be a part of. Plus, you’re playing Pac-12, and, hey, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Willock wanted to do some research on her own. She had been to every single football game her son had ever played. She didn’t want to ship him off to California without feeling that her boy would be in good hands.
Chachere – a native of New Orleans, La., and an alumnus of Tulane -- understood.
“He had a really close relationship with his family, as well, when he went off to college, and he basically saw what I was going through, and saw the decisions that I had to make,” says Wright. “That’s another thing that built our connection, and hey, it worked out well.”
For Wright, the choice was easy. His other offers were from Army, Navy, Alabama A&M, Alcorn State, Kennesaw State, Florida A&M, Mercer and South Alabama. Cal was the heaviest hitter, both academically and athletically. With a 3.5 GPA coming into this year, Wright scored straight-A’s, and should see his cumulative mark go up. Education is incredibly important to both him and his family.
“Basically, when coach [Chachere] came down here and he visited me, we hit it off great,” says Wright. “When I met him, I knew that he was a good guy, and I knew that it could possibly be a good fit for me. I was really comfortable with him, and it meant a lot to me that he came all the way from California to visit me in Georgia. After all that, I realized that it was the No. 1 public institution in the nation, and that a degree from Cal can do tremendous things for my family and me in the future. I couldn’t go wrong.”
While Willock was doing her research, Wright was doing his.
“I researched my major, and everything was beautiful. The coaches have been really supportive,” he says. “The coaches told me everything I needed to know, and really made it feel more like a family. I feel like I’ve known these guys all 17 years of my life.”
That major isn’t just a major. Wright looked into sociology and psychology, possibly even getting into the Haas School of Business. “I like to have options,” he says.
Finally, after researching and speaking at length with the coaches, herself, Willock gave her approval on Monday evening, and Wright pulled the trigger. It was an easy pull, particularly because of his relationship with Chachere, and his relationship with the current commits.
“I talked to Logan Gamble for the first time, probably two weeks before he committed, and that was the first Cal commit I talked to,” Wright says. “At that time, he wasn’t even a Cal commit, and we were actually talking about committing on the same day, if it worked out and he liked his visit. He went out there, and he said he’d let me know, and then he committed on the same day he visited. I was like, ‘Well, I guess the visit went pretty well!’ We have a group chat and everything, and we have all the commits, and all the commit hopefuls, and I was added into it. I love all the commits. It really feels like a brotherhood, like a real family, and I feel really comfortable with all the people that Cal pulled the trigger on. I’m really excited to extend my football career and my athletic career at Cal, with those guys.”
Wright and many of the other commits are planning a group official visit for the weekend of the USC game, but Wright wants to get out to California a bit sooner. For Willock, it will be a business trip, as she comes out to see the L.A. KISS, another Arena League team.
“The end of the NCAA dead period is July 12, and my mom and I are going to leave July 10, and we’re going to make it a little road trip,” Wright says. “Hopefully, we arrive around July 12, through the 18th.
“My mom wanted to go see an L.A. KISS game, so we’re probably going to go to an L.A. KISS game, and explore California, see what it has to offer.”