Fearon Wright doesn't drive an automobile. That's good news for everyone that makes their daily commutes on Interstate 494 or 35W. Because if Wright's behind-the-wheel approach at all mimics his tunnel-vision running style, drivers all over Minnesota would be in for a world of hurt.
There is no fear in Fearon. He plays like it. Admittedly, he'd probably drive like it, too. "I have teammates drive me to work," Wright said. "Everything is new around here. I have enough to worry about."
The tremendous burst of wind felt in the Twin Cities wasn't the Metrodome's doors simultaneously opening. It was the result of half a million drivers all discharging sighs of relief upon learning that someone is looking out for Wright on the roads.
Wright is in his first active season with the Vikings. Incidentally, it's his first year in the NFL. In fact, it is his first season on a team capable of winning more than three games in one season. Even though the Vikings have departed the slip slowly, this is nothing compared to what Wright is accustomed to.
Wright played fullback, tight end, linebacker and defensive end for Ferris High School in Jersey City, N.J. They never won more than three games in one season. He played for Dean Junior College the next two years. They never won more than three games in a season. He moved on to Division I-AA Rhode Island after that. Again, never more than three wins a season.
Any wonder why Wright is so happy to be with the Vikings? "The biggest thing for me coming in was knowing that I'm finally going to be on a winning team," said Wright, who was born in Jamaica. "Now I have to go out there and show why it's a privilege to be here. Every morning I wake up, I say, ‘Thank you, Lord, for me being here, because this is what I want to do.'"
Wright has taken what he considers a blessing and run with it. He'll do whatever the Vikings want him to do. Cut grass, paint yard-line stripes, wash dishes, laundry … you get the idea. Obviously, the Vikings didn't need Wright for any of those duties. What they did sign Wright for was to augment their already strong special teams units.
At 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, Wright is the Vikings' special teams version of the Tasmanian Devil. When No. 59 comes flying down the field, a collision usually ensues.
Wright's special teams title: Wedge-buster. His mission: Bust wedges.
"During the week, you're an average person," he said. "But come game day I watch guys like Harold (Morrow) and Chris (Walsh). Those guys get me pumping. I watch those guys and they're ready to go. They're crazy. That's the best way to define a wedge buster is we're crazy people. I know I've become very crazy. At kickoff time, I lose it. I flat out lose it. I usually tell myself it's me or them, and that's how I do it."
In the season opener —Wright's first play in the NFL regular season — it was he, not they, who received the punishment. It was he, not they, who felt the pain. It was he, not they, who was blindsided and issued a free pass into next week. On the very first play of Wright's professional career he was the recipient of a crushing blow that couldn't have stung any more if Iron Mike Tyson had delivered it himself.
Wright attempted to explain it, although he did mention parts of the play were a little fuzzy. "I got hit by a brick wall," Wright said of the opening kickoff against Carolina that the Panthers returned for a touchdown. "On the opening play, it was like, ‘Welcome to the NFL.' That's the one they've been telling me about that I needed to get out of my system."
Wright didn't waste any time.
"As soon as I got to the sideline, somebody asked me what had happened," Wright recalled. "I said, ‘Man, that game is fast.' The game goes up a whole 'nother level from preseason. Once the season starts, everybody's going 150 miles per hour. You have to love that part of the game, where you know you have to step it up. That's when you realize where you're playing and what you're doing. That — right then and there — was my wake-up call and my welcome to the NFL."
It was a tough welcome. Not only did Wright end up sprawled out on his back staring at the stained Teflon that is the Metrodome roof, the Panthers quickly stapled a 6-spot up on the scoreboard to stain the special teams' performance from the get-go.
"But you know what, after that happened I could see it in those guys' eyes," Wright said, speaking of his special teams teammates. "That's the reason I love playing with these guys. That was something personal to them. I could tell that this didn't happen a lot with them. The first thing those guys did was say, ‘Brush it off and make sure it doesn't happen again.' I love that professional attitude. What happened on that play will be the one thing we're going to hold over each other's head all season. It will never happen again to this squad."
Wright hasn't even been a member of the Vikings for three months and already he feels a bond, an obligation to his teammates to give maximum effort. Realizing he is but one minuscule piece of a complex puzzle, Wright simply wants to do his part to make the special teams machine work.
"It's not an individual thing with me," he said. "If it's individual, I want to be the one to throw the big block to send someone to the end zone. I'm not out there to be an individual player. It's not about personal things with me. It's about doing your one-eleventh."
Wright hopes to be doing at least his 9.1 percent of the load. If he isn't, it can't be attributed to a lack of effort. In addition to daily practices, film sessions and a weight lifting regimen, Wright engages in psychological play 48 hours before every Sunday.
"I get prepared at least two days in advance thinking about what I'm supposed to do," Wright said. "Over and over I keep going through it and psyching myself up. You can't be all there running down there all the time. As a wedge buster you just can't be all there. I sometimes have to laugh to myself and think, ‘Man, you're crazy.' But that's my job and I have to do it. One way or another I'm going to get it done."
But just because he approaches his job with such intensity, Wright knows he isn't automatically elevated to Pro Bowl status. Every week, there are 11 players on the opposing special teams unit who share virtually the same attitude and approach that Wright brings to the field.
"The guys I'm going against are crazy, too," he said. "But it's a lot of who's the craziest person out here. Who wants it the most? If you knock me down, just know that I'm coming back."
He hopes to keep coming back to Winter Park. Wright, only one of three undrafted players on the entire Vikings roster, is elated to belong. It's worth mentioning again, Wright appreciates every week, every day, every hour, every minute that he can wear a Vikings uniform.
"I look at this as a blessing to be part of something like this," Wright said. "Right now, I'm getting an opportunity as a linebacker where it's up to me to work hard and study my playbooks. On special teams, I'm happy. You have to play special teams and tread those waters sometime. You have to play special teams sometime, whether you're a first-round pick or a seventh-round pick."
Or, in Wright's case, a free-agent walk-on.
"I fell into the best position I could fall into," Wright said. "This is the best place for me. When Coach (Gary) Zauner called me and told me to come down and play with the Minnesota Vikings, my heart just dropped."
That same heart serves as the nucleus to Wright's career. Play hard with no regrets allowing whatever to happen, happen.
"I would love to have a career like Chris (Walsh) or Harold (Morrow) and one day do more on defense," Wright said. "But to make it in this game you have to shut up and pay attention and watch the examples of the people who have been there and done that." VU
Getting To Know: LB Fearon Wright
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