Gimino: What more can Scooby do?
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Arizona Wildcats linebacker Scooby Wright has identified his favorite workout routine: Lunges.
"This may sound a little weird," he said, "but I like the feeling when you can't walk anymore. You push yourself to that point and you wake up the next morning and you feel sore and can barely get out of bed. That's what drives me to push myself that much."
The sequel to the Season of Scooby should be better than the original, because the UA junior linebacker has no desire to sit around and gaze at his trophies. He has no "off" switch. Pump iron or perish. Practice or perish. Coach Rich Rodriguez ignited a wild celebration last week when he canceled practice 15 minutes after it began, but a few players stayed for about an hour anyway to get in some work.
Scooby was one of them. Of course he was.
"I was just embracing the grind," he said. "I was ready to practice."
Now, he's ready to play. Scooby is the caged lion about to be released across the turf at Arizona Stadium as the Wildcats open their season Thursday against UTSA.
What more can he do after making 163 tackles, including 29 for loss and 14 sacks, forcing six fumbles, winning the Bednarik and Nagurski awards as the nation's top defender, the Lombardi award as the top defensive lineman/linebacker, being selected a unanimous All-American and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year?
The work ethic -- the 6 a.m. weightlifting sessions on off days, pushing himself until he can't walk -- is a given. As for his football skills, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel says Scooby's short-area quickness is "off the charts."
The major difference now is Scooby's ability to be more than an excitable puppy zipping all over the field. He says his ability to diagnose a play and pounce after the snap is "night and day" from when he was a true freshman starter.
Scary, huh? Imagine what he can do now that he is able to play the game as if time has slowed down only for him.
"This is the best I've felt in the system, not having to think, just going out there and playing," he said.
He'll be better, but whether it's actually possible to post the same numbers as last year is a question, especially with offenses focused from the start on finding Scooby, deploying multiple blockers to his area, and daring another Wildcat to make a play on the ball-carrier. But Arizona counters by moving Wright from his middle linebacker position; he's a quarterback-seeking end in passing situations, and Rodriguez identifies another area of improvement when he talks about Wright's ability to drop into coverage.
Casteel will drive Scooby as only a football coach can. Scooby needs to work on his footwork. He can use his hands better. The pad level can improve. Yeah, Scooby gets all that.
"He's a perfectionist," Casteel said.
"His work ethic separates him from a lot of people. He has a desire to continue to get better. When it's practice time, he comes to practice and works. Those things are rubbing off on other guys. That's one of the things that Scooby brings to our program."
He doesn't have to be a rah-rah leader. Wright isn't the team's best talker, but that's mostly because he doesn't like talking about himself, at least to the media.
"But when he does talk, he's going to command a kid's attention," Casteel said.
"He's more of a guy who is going to walk up to somebody and talk to him about working harder. He's not a guy who is going to get in the middle of everybody and be really vocal. The majority of his leadership comes from those guys seeing him go about his business every day."
The business of football dreams began when for Scooby he was a ball boy for the football team at his sister's high school, before he was even old enough for Pop Warner. When he was able to play, he fell in love.
"I was playing fullback and running a little flat pattern, and I just ran full speed through this kid. I don't think I even broke stride," he said. "That was probably my favorite moment; it's when I caught the itch. I was probably 8 years old."
As he went through grade school, he often would struggle to get within the weight limit. He was always a big kid.
"I was in the fifth grade, and I had to lose 15 pounds to make weight to play football," he said. "Friday nights, I would eat a salad, Saturday nights I would eat a salad, barely drink any water. After Sunday weigh-in, I would eat a sandwich and have a Red Bull and be ready to go."
Ready to go: The subtitle to the sequel to the Season of Scooby.
He turned 21 on Friday. He probably celebrated with an extra set of lunges.
- - -
Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.