Winston Wright never will be confused with Chuck Yeager, but the kickoff returner and the famous pilot do have one thing is common.
They both possess the “Right Stuff.” Or, perhaps, it should be the “Wright Stuff.”
Either way, West Virginia University’s star wide receiver and kickoff returner is making quite a name for himself. And why not? In WVU’s season-opening loss at Maryland, Wright returned a kickoff 98 yards. Next, in a 66-0 drubbing of LIU, Wright returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
That means the 5-foot-9, 182-pound speedster is averaging a whopping 51.2 yards per kickoff return.
“Wright Stuff,” indeed.
Just ask Jeff Koonz, WVU’s special teams coordinator.
“I tell you what, he’s fun to watch,” said Koonz. “Anytime you can start a game going to the house with a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown ... get the crowd into it, which was awesome being the first game back with a full crowd.
“Winston has done a great job. He’s worked really hard. He had some success two years ago. Last year, he really didn’t break the big one. He was really close several times.”
This season Wright has been more than close. He has gotten to celebrate in the end zone.
But Wright didn’t accomplish that all by himself. He had help. Lots of help.
“What a testament to the guys blocking for him,” said Koonz. “Everybody made their blocks. Very rarely can you do that. You sit there against Maryland [during Wright’s 98-yard kickoff return] and some of that was Winston being Winston and doing some special things with the ball in his hands and maybe making some guys miss.
“But this was one where we blocked every single person and we were right where we were supposed to be, so it was fun to watch from a schematic point.”
It’s not much fun, however, for Virginia Tech to watch. As the 15th-ranked Hokies prepare to play WVU at noon Saturday on Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium, they have to spend extra practice time preparing for Wright’s kickoff return prowess.
But his “Wright Stuff” isn’t limited to only kickoff returns. The junior also leads WVU in receptions with nine for 101 yard (11.2 yards per catch).
None of this comes as any surprise to WVU head coach Neal Brown.
“First of all, when I was still at Troy as a head coach, he was at a camp at Mercer,” explained Brown. “And he ran really fast. He ran in the low 4.4s [40-yard dash], I think. So we really had been tracking him since.
“Then, when I got this job and he already had signed, I was excited because we recruited him hard at Troy. And he really has progressed nicely. He had a good nine months. You probably notice he is quite a big stronger. His body ... he has added weight, he is more explosive.”
Maryland and LIU noticed, that’s for sure.
“The thing that I was excited about is he never stopped his feet,” continued Brown. “He was decisive in his decisions. And he hit them with speed. And he’ll continue to do that. I think that is going to be a real weapon for us going forward.”
There’s no doubt. Yet, it does raise an interesting question. Namely, what exactly makes a kick returner electric?
“One thing is trust,” answered Koonz. “Trusting that the hole is going to be where it’s blocked to be. But number two is not stopping their feet. That is something that Coach Brown and [co-offensive coordinator] Coach [Chad) Scott continuously say to him is hitting the hole and running through it.
“It’s like the old movie ‘Days of Thunder.’ When you’ve got to go through the smoke, you’ve got to hit it going through the smoke and you can’t hit the brake. He has done that at an elite level this year.”
That’s because Winston has the “Wright Stuff.”