Northwestern’s Wright is an NCAA unknown

Brett Angel

It hardly ever fails. When the name Jason Wright comes up in a conversation anywhere outside of Evanston, Ill., someone invariably asks the question – or at least thinks to himself – Jason who?

For those who still haven’t heard, Wright is a senior running back on Northwestern’s football team. He gained 1,500 yards of total offense (1,234 rushing) and scored 12 touchdowns last year in his first full season playing the position. He’s been called the most complete running back Northwestern’s Randy Walker has ever coached.

He has also gotten used to the fact that he’s the Rodney Dangerfield of the Big Ten’s rushing elite.

“I hear that a lot,” Wright said.

How much respect he’s received throughout the college football world is debatable. However, his numbers are not. Throughout the first five weeks of the 2003 season, Wright averaged 105.6 yards per game and found the end zone eight times.

Those numbers rank him third and second in the Big Ten, respectively. But when discussing the Big Ten’s top running backs, Wright is often overshadowed by guys like Michigan’s Chris Perry, Iowa’s Fred Russell, Wisconsin’s Anthony Davis and Minnesota’s Marion Barber III.

“I’m always asked, ‘Why don’t people talk about you?’ and that’s because I haven’t gotten our team as many wins in the win column as the other running backs have,” Wright said. “Until I’m able to do that, no attention is deserved.”

Forgive Wright if he doesn’t dwell on the fact that he’s probably the most underrated running back in the conference. He’s had plenty of other things on his mind during his time at Northwestern.

When Wright wasn’t playing the role of the team’s star football player last season, he was studying, and more than just the playbook. Wright recently completed his requirements for a pre-med degree at arguably the most academically demanding school in the Big Ten.

Organic chemistry, biophysics and advanced calculus are just some of the classes listed on Wright’s class schedule. He missed a team scrimmage in August because he had prior obligations to take the MCAT medical school entrance exam.

Wright’s teammates teased him about sitting in the library with his nose in a book while they go out. But his intelligence is what makes Wright such a special commodity for Walker and the Wildcats.

“The kid is just unbelievable, he does it all,” Northwestern linebacker Pat Durr said. “I don’t get his report card, but my guess would be he’s pretty darn close (to getting straight ‘As’).”

Wright’s field IQ is equally impressive. Although just 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds, Wright has developed into one of the best blocking backs in the conference, and his ability to read blitzes and adjust on the fly is second to none.

“It’s like having another quarterback on the field,” Durr said.

Still, Wright maintains that neither the individual statistics nor the lack of notoriety mean much to him. It’s wins and losses that matter most, and Northwestern has struggled to just three conference victories since earning a share of the Big Ten title in 2000.

“It makes me wonder what else I can do,” Wright said. “If there’s something I need to be sacrificing, if I need to be doing something else as a team leader. I just want to win and get to a bowl game.”

The Wildcats (2-3, 0-1 Big Ten), who will welcome Minnesota (5-0, 1-0) to Ryan Field on Saturday, think their team is vastly improved over a 2002 version that gave up more than 41 points and 500 yards of total offense per game. But while the defense has done better, Wright and the Northwestern running game will need to shoulder much of the load if the team expects to earn a bowl berth this holiday season.

If the Wildcats do make a run, Wright might just get some of the attention and respect both teammates and coaches say he deserves.

“He’s just so good at everything,” Walker said. “He’ll get the recognition he deserves. If not in this league, then hopefully somewhere else down the line.”

If he maintains the pace he has set for himself, the NFL just might come calling for Wright, who said he would love to end up in medical school eventually. But if he gets the chance at a professional football career, he admitted he would jump at it.

After all, how smart would it be to pass that up?