PANTHER PROFILE: Garrett Wright – the Panthers’ calm in the storm

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Panthers’ senior quarterback Garrett Wright (#2) eyes his target downfield. Against the Burnet Bulldogs Friday, Wright threw for three touchdowns and 110 yards, both of which were season highs. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Panthers’ senior quarterback Garrett Wright (#2) eyes his target downfield. Against the Burnet Bulldogs Friday, Wright threw for three touchdowns and 110 yards, both of which were season highs. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

It takes a special kind of person to play quarterback at Liberty Hill High School under Coach Jerry Vance. In a “Slot T” offense that’s based heavily on the run game, a Panther quarterback has to be willing to take a back seat for the good of the team, knowing that his chances to throw the ball will be limited.

In Garrett Wright, the Panthers found exactly that.

“Garrett’s one of those young men that comes around every once in a while that you have fun coaching with,” Vance said. “You can talk to him about anything. Some kids run home to mama and daddy and say, ‘Coach said this, Coach said that,’ but Garrett’s real mature and understanding of how we try and do things.”

Wright admitted that as a quarterback, it’s natural to want to throw the deep ball, but it isn’t something that bothers him. Like Vance said, he understands what he needs to do for the Panthers to be successful, and he does it, regardless of whether or not it gets his name in the newspaper.

“It really doesn’t cross my mind,” Wright said regarding his limited chances through the air. “Every quarterback wants to go throw a Hail Mary down the field, but part of running the Slot T is just that you have to be devoted to running the football.”

Wright makes it sound so simple, and to him, it really is. Running the ball is the way Coach Vance has built this offense, and to Wright, that’s all that matters. As the leader of the Panther offense, Wright has shown incredible poise and stoicism in the face of adversity, whether he gets the chance to throw the ball or not, and confidence and encouragement on the sidelines when the situation calls for it.

“Part of being the quarterback at Liberty Hill is that you have to be the calm in the storm,” Wright said regarding his growth as a leader for Liberty Hill football. “I think it’s just all the confidence that’s been built up. When I came in on varsity as a sophomore, everybody was bigger, stronger, and faster than me, and I had to earn their respect, let them know that I was varsity material. As the quarterback, everybody looks up to you to be the leader of that huddle and that team. It’s hard to gain a senior’s respect when you’re a sophomore, so it was a challenge.”

Coach Vance knew he had something special in Wright from the time he was in seventh grade, noticing that he was a natural leader among his peers. He noticed a maturity and a confidence level not often found in kids that age.

He also found the “it factor” in Garrett’s other athletic ventures. He played varsity baseball as a freshman at Liberty Hill, and was a varsity pole-vaulter before an injury forced him to sit out of track. He played on the varsity basketball team as a junior last year, as well, and plans on continuing his varsity basketball and baseball careers once football season is over.

“You watch kids from the seventh grade on through, and we noticed that Garrett kind of stood out,” Vance said. “He wanted to be the quarterback; he wanted to be that man, even when he was in seventh grade. He plays all sports. He plays basketball, he plays baseball, he ran track. He’s an all-around kid. His maturity has grown. He’s always been a confident kid. He wasn’t overly confident, but he was sure of himself and who he was. He didn’t have to have somebody around him telling him how good he was.”

Coach Vance explained that Wright’s peers have naturally gravitated toward him as long as he’s had his eyes on him, for whatever reason, and that he never had to push Wright to become more of a leader. It’s something that comes natural to the Panthers’ starting quarterback.

“There are some you have to push to be that kind of leader,” Vance said, “and there are some that, I don’t know, there’s something about them that draws those other kids to them. Garrett’s one of those.”

Despite the Panthers’ employment of a run-heavy offense, Coach Vance insisted that the quarterback remains the most important piece of the Panther offense, using essential ball fakes and decision-making skills to initiate the offense on the ground.

“We’ve always said, and people dismiss us about it, but our quarterback is the one that deals the cards,” Vance said. “It’s sleight of hand that makes everything else work. He has to be very unselfish. I don’t want to put him in a position to get him hurt, but I also know I’m going to put him in the position to gain yards and be productive in that way.”

During Liberty Hill’s game against the Panthers’ long-time rival Burnet Bulldogs, Wright connected on four of seven passes, which, in and of itself isn’t particularly impressive. What was impressive, however, is that three of those four connections were touchdown passes. When you have only seven opportunities to throw the ball, how do you stay warm and engaged with the passing game as a quarterback?

“It’s just trusting in my abilities that have been given to me,” Wright said. “It’s more of a reflex at this point. We practice all the time, and it never really crosses my mind, like, ‘Slow down and make a good throw right here.’ It just happens, and it’s in the moment. I just trust in my coach, trust in my arm, and trust in my abilities, and that gets me in a pretty good spot.”

After graduation, Wright plans on attending Texas A&M, where he’s already been accepted, and is waiting to hear from the school of engineering to see if he will be accepted into the university’s aerospace engineering program. Although he doesn’t plan on playing sports at the college level, he didn’t rule out a potential walk-on situation with one of the various sports he has excelled at thus far as a Liberty Hill Panther.

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