When describing Isaiah Wright’s most memorable display of athletic ability at the Kingswood-Oxford School, football coach Jason Martinez doesn’t pick one of Wright’s 60-yard touchdown runs or one-handed catches.
Instead, the top play of the Temple freshman’s high school career happened on special teams.
As a gunner on the punt team, Wright raced down the field and tried to down a punt after it bounced at the two-yard line.
“It was going into the end zone and he jumps up, does a backflip, bats the ball between his legs and it lands on the one-yard line,” Martinez said. “To be 210 pounds and be able to do that makes it altogether scary.”
Wright, who was rated a three-star recruit by Rivals.com, originally committed to Rutgers University before flipping his commitment to Temple in February.
He’s made an immediate impression on coach Matt Rhule, who describes Wright as one of the most mature freshmen he’s ever been around.
“Everything from the way he acts in terms of talking to people and being someone that’s empowered to talk to people and speak his mind in a very positive way, to the way he practices, takes cares of his body,” Rhule said. “He’s ultimately earned the respect of the guys on the team in a very quick amount of time just because of the way he carries himself.”
“You can tell he’s going to be a special player,” Rhule added.
Wright played everywhere on the field at Kingswood-Oxford. He caught 91 passes for 1,917 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also ran for 330 yards.
Martinez wanted to get the ball in Wright’s hands as much as possible. He even lined Wright up at quarterback for designed runs out of the wildcat formation.
“He has an eye for the end zone,” Martinez said. “You can’t teach what he has. He has a special skillset with the ball in his hands, whether it’s juking you, whether it’s running you over or with a spin technique, he has a wide variety of tools that allow him to be as good as he is.”
Rhule and offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas have used Wright’s skillset similarly. The 6-foot-2-inch, 207-pound wide receiver has played running back and even returned kicks for the Owls this summer.
“He’s been bursting on the scene,” senior quarterback Phillip Walker said. “He’s been doing great playing running back, receiver. Everything we need him to do he’s doing.”
“He’s been able to play a couple different positions and is learning them very, very fast,” Thomas said. “And that gives confidence that he can get in there and get reps and show us what he can do.”
Sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead heard similar praises during training camp last season. Armstead eventually played in 11 games last season as a true freshman, rushing for 191 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s definitely hard to go from high school to Division I playing football, especially as a true freshman,” Armstead said. “I’m just trying to help him out as best I can and let him know that I was just in those same shoes last year.”
Martinez touts Wright as the best player he’s ever coached. That includes four-star linebacker Koby Quansah, who will play at Duke University. It also includes Tennessee Titans tight end Jerome Cunningham and former NFL wide receiver Chris Ortiz.
Wright’s competitiveness, which features a bit of “nastiness,” Martinez said, is what really separated him from other talented players.
“The funny thing about Isaiah is that he’s a pretty soft spoken kid, but when he’s on the field he turns into a complete animal,” Martinez said. “It’s funny to see him be able to leave it all on the field and come back and be a perfect gentleman after it’s all said and done.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.