Originally, North Carolina running back Jaylen Wright was going to wait before announcing a commitment, but because of all the uncertainty with the coronavirus outbreak, he went ahead and pushed up his commitment date.
That benefited the Vols big time.
On Monday, Wright announced his commitment to Tennessee over offers from Miami, Arizona State, Syracuse, and others. I spoke with Wright about his commitment and why he chose the Vols, and he said UT has been at the top of his board for a while. So, given that and the fact that the sports world is up in the air right now, Wright decided to go ahead and pledge himself to the Vols.
“Due to all this coronavirus stuff going on, I felt like it was just the right decision to go ahead and do it,” Wright explained. “Tennessee was No. 1 on my board, and I just didn’t want to lose a spot. I just felt like I needed to go ahead and pull the trigger and save my spot.
“I basically already told them that they’re the school I wanted to go to. I just wanted to wait it out. But I just thought to do it earlier because we never know when we’re going to get through this whole pandemic, so I just wanted to go ahead and commit.”
What made Tennessee climb to the top of Wright’s board? Several factors, but one of the top reasons was his relationship with new Vol running backs coach Jay Graham.
“The coaching staff, the fan base, just the love that they showed when I was there,” Wright said about why he committed to the Vols. “Coach Graham, we really have a strong relationship. That just made me feel like that should be the school I go to.”
Graham, who hails from Concord, North Carolina, used to live in the city Wright is from. Wright plays for Southern High School in Durham, NC, and the fact that Graham is from his area made him trust the former Vol running back-turned-coach on a deeper level.
“He used to live in the city I’m from. He’s from North Carolina, so he really knows what goes down in the city,” Wright said of Graham. “Just the fact that he’s from where I’m from, that just brings a real strong relationship and makes me trust him.”
The speedy running back has just started to see his recruitment really take off, but the Vols have been strong on him for months. Wright says he plans on visiting other schools once restrictions are lifted due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but he’s “100 percent committed to Tennessee.”
One of the biggest reasons Tennessee’s coaches, and other coaches around the country, have kept an eye on Wright is because of his speed. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound athlete has elite track speed and at one point had the fastest 55-meter time in the United States at 6.25 seconds. His 60-meter time of 6.72 seconds is the fastest time in the state of North Carolina for the 2020 indoor season.
That training in track has not only helped Wright develop more speed, but it’s aided him in other areas on the football field as well.
“It helps me a lot,” Wright said about how track helps him with football. “It’s really gotten me faster, gotten me more explosive. It makes me more elusive, and my acceleration is great. That’s what college coaches like when they recruit me.”
Wright isn’t just a one-trick pony, though; he has more than just his speed that helps him make plays on the gridiron.
“Breaking tackles, I can catch the ball. I can play multiple positions,” Wright said of his other strengths. “I can switch to the slot, I play running back. It makes me feel like I’m an all-around athlete, an all-purpose back.”
That versatility and explosiveness helped Wright average 10.1 yards per carry on 89 total attempts as a junior for Southern, scoring five touchdowns and adding six receptions for 62 yards as well.
Tennessee has talked to Wright about playing both as a running back and a kick returner, and Wright said UT’s coaches want to use his speed as much as they can.
Moving forward, Wright wants to help bring in more recruits to Tennessee’s 2021 class. The Vols are targeting several prospects in the state of North Carolina in this cycle, and Wright says he will “most definitely” do what he can to sell the Vols to those recruits.
“I’m really gonna try and make Tennessee be a big thing again,” Wright stated. “I’m gonna recruit some North Carolina kids to Tennessee. I’m gonna help out. I’m going to try and get them to come on and hop on board with me.”