Wright a force in secondary

Florida free safety Major Wright punishes Oklahoma receiver Manuel Johnson in the first half of Thursday night's game.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 6:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 6:35 p.m.

MIAMI – Major Wright made his presence known early on Thursday night.

Known more for his bone-jarring hits than his coverage, the 6-foot, 200-pound free safety launched himself into an unprepared Manuel Johnson, who was attempting to haul in a deep pass from Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford on the third play from scrimmage in the BCS National Championship.

“I had to let them know I had it in me,” Wright said.

But on a night in which UF needed its secondary in top form, Wright was there to anchor his unit. He disrupted the deep ball by flying around the back end of the field. He made what looked to be about a dozen touchdown-saving tackles on some of the Sooners longer runs.

Against a passing offense that ranked third nationally with just over 356 yards per game, Wright’s stellar play helped UF’s defense limit Oklahoma’s aerial game to just 256 yards in UF’s 24-14 win.

Wright was everywhere in the first half, as he finished with six of his nine tackles after the first two quarters. When the Gators needed a big play on an Oklahoma first-and-goal from the 6-yard line, Wright was there to give his team some much-needed momentum heading into the half.

With the scored knotted 7-7, Bradford, who had been slicing through UF’s defense with ease throughout the drive, looked to connect with Johnson in the front, right part of the end zone. The pass was first deflected by sophomore cornerback Joe Haden and then was knocked up by linebacker Ryan Stamper. After getting bobbled a few more times in the air by UF defenders, Wright finally came up with it and was tackled at the 3.

The pick was Wright’s fourth of the season and it couldn’t have come at a more critical time for the Gators.

“That was huge,” cornerbacks coach Vance Bedford said of Wright’s interception. “That was a big play that turned the whole game around. Joe did a great job in breaking the pass up and we batted it around like volleyball, and Major came up with probably one of the biggest plays of the year for us.”

What made Wright’s performance even more special was the fact that the Miramar, Fla., native was playing in a national championship that was basically in his backyard.

All week, Wright took a few of his teammates around his hometown, showing them his old hangouts and having them visit his closest friends and family.

“I just saw the love that I would expect for somebody like Major Wright,” junior cornerback Markihe Anderson said of traveling around with Wright. “He’s doing great. He’s a blessed child, a God fearing guy. The love that they show him is like the love that I get when I go back home. It’s just love and it’s exciting to see that.”

With seven family members in the stands watching him parade around the field, covered in confetti and throwing up a single index finger after UF’s win, Wright said his week couldn’t have ended better. Now, the high-flying safety can tone down his life and take everything in while he’s close to the ones that mean the most to him.

“It means a lot,” he said. “Now I can go home, relax and share this with (his family).”

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