September 8, 2011

Wright making most of opportunity

Crosby Wright might have a future in sales.

Having played only four varsity football games during his entire high school career, the walk-on tight end had to make quite the pitch three years ago to be given a chance at Purdue.

Injuries had kept the 6-foot-3, 248-pound Wright from playing much football at Carbondale Community High School in Illinois. He thrice dislocated his elbow, the last time only three days before his senior season opener; it wiped out his season, and required a Tommy John-like surgery, which left him with a six inch scar on his right elbow.

With so little football game film available, Wright had a heck of a time trying to convince schools he could play, if not as a scholarship player than as a walk-on.

"Funny story," Wright explained, "the (Purdue) coaches actually had me send in basketball film. They knew my size - the height and weight is about where it should be for a tight end - they wanted to see if I could move, was athletic at all. So I sent in my basketball film and then came up and met with them a few times on my own. I had a good grade-point-average and test scores in high school, so that probably helped me as well."

Now, with his sales job complete, Wright's reaping the benefits, as he's ascended to an integral role in Purdue's offense as a junior; he might start at Rice Saturday, with first-team tight end Gabe Holmes doubtful because of a knee bruise.

Wright got extensive action in Purdue's season-opening win over Middle Tennessee State Saturday, catching three passes (the first three of his career) for 38 yards. And they were critical grabs as well, as Wright had a 16-yard reception on a third-and-14, allowing the Boilers to score a few plays later on Akeem Shavers' 30-yard run to tie the game in the fourth.

Then, he had two second-down catches on Purdue's final drive, helping the Boilers go ahead with a touchdown with less than a minute left.

Knowing he was going to play more against MTSU, even if Holmes had stayed healthy, Wright sought out former Purdue tight end Kyle Adams, who's now a rookie with the Chicago Bears, for advice.

"He just reminded me that the game is really similar to practice," Wright said of his former teammate. "There's just not a lot of difference, despite the fans and atmosphere and everything. So in the game, it really was similar. A lot of those routes I caught, I've caught 100 times in practice, training camp. Caleb (TerBush) put the ball on the money every time and made it easy for me."

Transitioning to Purdue in 2008, however, was far from easy. Although he was a two-time captain at Carbondale Community, Wright barely ever saw the field. He played two games at the beginning of his junior year before dislocating his elbow, then returned to play two more at the end of that season.

After missing all his senior year, Wright says he considered staying home to go to Southern Illinois, where Jerry Kill had given him a chance to walk-on. But when Kill, who's in his first year now at Minnesota, left SIU for Northern Illinois, Wright looked elsewhere. He applied for school at Purdue, Wisconsin and Illinois, but chose the Boilermakers after coaches here said he could join training camp without first having to try out.

Big Ten football was an eye-opener for the inexperienced tight end.

"When I got here, the first thing I realized is that I didn't really know how to play the game of football," said Wright, who redshirted in 2008 and didn't see the field in '09. "At my high school, it was much more about athleticism and ability on the field, not as much technical detail as it is here. It's kind of like an extra class here, all the time you spend in meetings, watching film.

"It took me pretty much my whole first year. I had to block Alex Magee, who was a converted defensive tackle and real heavy; it took me a full season of getting beat by him before I realized some technical aspects of the game that I had to pick up on."

Of course, blocking (or trying to) defensive end Ryan Kerrigan came next, so learning details of how not to get whipped at the line of scrimmage were force fed. Adams helped his progress, too.

"Kyle is a fantastic blocking tight end," Wright said. "Learning from him every single day helped a lot."

Wright's blocking ability got him on the field some last season. He estimates he played about a half dozen offensive snaps behind Adams and Jeff Lindsay, but was on several special teams units. Since then he's made strides to become an even more complete player.

"I'm surprised how much he's developed in a year," Coach Danny Hope said. "He's a lot more big and strong than he was a year ago. He's very smart. He has a lot of suddenness about him on the line of scrimmage. Sometimes guys will have a better knack for seeing what's in front of them better than others. He does a good job of seeing what's in front of him and being able to react vs. movement and blitzes and people changing directions in front of him. He has really long arms and strong hands.

"I think he's a good receiving tight end. He's not as good as Gabe from a vertical standpoint, but he's a good receiving tight end. I really like him on the line of scrimmage. He's a very good football player."

Wright says he has no idea whether things would have turned out differently had he been healthy in high school. Perhaps a scholarship offer, or two, would have came his way. But he says he's happy how it's turned out.

"It's been great," he said. "It's taught me a lot about the value of work. It's great here because they treat the walk-ons the same as they treat scholarship players. We don't have any restrictions or anything like that. We're just as much a part of the team as the scholarship guys are. They've given me a lot of opportunities."

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