Wright is Texas' third finalist in the last four years but looks to become the first Longhorn to win the Lombardi in the past two decades. Derrick Johnson (2004) and Cory Redding (2002) were the most recent finalists. Texas All-American DT Kenneth Sims was the school's first Lombardi winner (1981) while All-American DT Tony Degrate won the Award three seasons later.
"We've had some great defensive linemen over the last eight years and Mike Tolleson's done a super job and Rod Wright is following the footsteps of Casey Hampton and Marcus Tubbs and Shaun Rogers and all those other guys who have been so good for us," Mack Brown said of his senior DT.
Wright has 38 tackles on the season which, statistically, is a relatively quiet year by his standards. In fact, Wright posted more stops during his sophomore campaign (80) than the past two years combined (74). Obviously, Wright was slowed most of last season with a nagging ankle injury that he suffered during the pre-conference slate. And his numbers were down last season, in part, because former Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson's read-and-react scheme required down-linemen to engage blockers and direct the flow of the play to backside support. This season, Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik rotates his D-linemen more so than any other spot. What's more, eight of ten games this season have been such blowouts that starters have typically called it a day before the end of the third quarter.
Wright also has 12 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 14 pressures, two PBD and that glorious 67-yard fumble return for TD against Oklahoma this season. Almost one in three tackles for Wright this season have gone for losses. For his career, Wright has 217 tackles, 40 TFL, 16.5 sacks, 65 pressures, eight PBD and five forced fumbles.
Yet, there is no quantifying the senior leadership that Wright has brought to the 2005 Longhorns -- especially with his commitment to rallying 60+ players to voluntary summer workouts where the camaraderie and mettle of this undefeated team was forged. Wright also humbly acknowledges that the success of this year's defense has kept the national spotlight in his direction.
The Longhorns are ranked sixth nationally in both total defense (277.8 ypg) and scoring defense (14.3 ppg). The unit is one of only four nationally that rank among the top 20 in all five major defensive categories.
"If you have a Heisman winner or a Doak Walker winner on your offense, then your offense is doing something great," he said. "I've never seen a bad offense with a Heisman Trophy winner. It's the same thing with the Lombardi, Butkus, Thorpe or whatever you may win at the defensive side. People are complementing you all around. With Frank (Okam), Larry (Dibbles), Brian (Robison), Tim (Crowder), Aaron (Harris) and all rest of the front seven, we're playing well against the run. Our DBs are playing as well as anybody in the country. I'm just somebody who's doing my job. I'm just one piece of this defense that's getting recognized."
The Lombardi will be presented in Houston on December 7.