St. Teresa's juniors and seniors had seen Jacardia Wright play for the Junior Dawgs, but it wasn't until he showed up for summer workouts that they knew they were looking at a varsity football player.
"He may be a freshman but he looks like a grown man," St. Teresa junior quarterback Ryan Fyke said. "When we saw him come in this summer, we were all just blown away. We knew and accepted right away he was going to play."
St. Teresa coach Tim Brilley said playing freshmen isn't ideal, but Wright -- at 6-foot, 180-pounds with track star speed -- has forced his hand.
"You want a senior at every position who has been grinding for four years, but Jacardia can't help how old he is," Brilley said. "He's a dangerous weapon, but he's also a complete back -- he can pass protect and catch passes. It's hard to keep a kid like that off the field, especially when he's come in and worked as hard as he can.
"He couldn't do more than what we've asked of him. He's earned the right to play."
Wright has also shown results on the field. Though the first five games of his varsity career, he leads St. Teresa with 491 yards rushing at 8.2 yards per carry. Though the Bulldogs are trying to limit Wright to mostly offense to keep him healthy, he's among the team's leading tacklers and has three interceptions playing free safety.
"He's a stud," Fyke said. "He's going to be something to watch here."
Wright, though, has had plenty of help adapting to varsity football as a freshman.
The team's upperclassmen have chosen to support Wright rather than resort to the petty jealousy that sometimes comes with freshmen playing in starring roles.
"So far he hasn't done anything to make us mad," said Hein, smiling. "He's a good guy -- he's fun to be around and jokes around.
"And, honestly, we're just grateful to have talent like that on our team. I don't think anyone expected him to come out this fast. He hit the ground running."
Brilley said Wright is easy for the upperclassmen to support.
"He's humble," Brilley said. "He realizes he's only as good as his teammates, and the offensive line and other guys in the backfield have done a great job of being a cohesive unit and setting the right example for him.
"They understand how good he can be, what his potential is, and that he has a good, positive attitude."
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Wright's attitude is what has impressed Fyke.
"He's young in the mind, but he's really coach-able," Fyke said. "I try to help him out any way I can, and he listens.
"What we've all tried to do is just to keep the pressure on him -- keep him from getting a big head and keep him working hard."
Hein said he feels like it's his job as a senior to help underclassmen like Wright know what they're doing.
"I always make sure they know if they have a question, I can answer it," Hein said. "Sometimes it's just giving tips during the game like, 'Follow the block this way,' or make sure you look to the outside on a certain play -- stuff like that."
Hein has helped Wright while also trying to learn a new position. Hein played mostly halfback last year but has shifted to fullback.
"He's set the perfect example," Brilley said. "He had to play fullback this year because that's where we need him at. He's done nothing but improve as a blocker in every game this year. And he's our second-leading receiver."
Junior halfback Joey Martini's role is to keep Wright on his toes. Like Wright, Martini is a complete back with the ability to bust big plays -- like he showed with a 90-yard run in last week's win against Clinton.
"Jacardia has plenty of competition at that spot, and it's brought out the best in him," Brilley said. "Joey is the fastest player on our team. He's constantly pushing Jacardia for time. If Jacardia does something we don't like, we have no problem putting Joey in."
Martini, whose main job is linebacker, said he can empathize with what Wright's going through -- he saw his first varsity action last year as a sophomore as the team's kicker.
"Last year I came out to kick the first two games and I was pretty nervous -- if I was starting as a freshman, I'd be freaking out," Martini said. "I just try to help him make sure he knows what he's doing and try to help him get used to things out there."
Wright said he knows he's far from a finished product -- he feels like he needs to get stronger finishing runs -- but he's been excited to get the opportunity.
"I got a lot bigger in the weight room over the summer and when I got to practice I was the same size and speed as the varsity players," Wright said. "I'm playing a faster game against better people than what I've played in the past, but the seniors have been good about filling me in on what I need to know. Fitz (senior Zach Fitzgerald), Noah (senior Noah Bowers) and Brady (junior Brady Moore) -- those guys have all been really nice to me."
Brilley said if Wright continues to learn from the upperclassmen's example, he can't wait to watch what Wright accomplishes the next three-and-a-half seasons.
"He's still raw -- he's learning every day that the gifts that God gave him aren't always going to save him," Brilley said. "He has to work hard every single play, every single week.
"The thing is, 95 percent of the time he does that. There are some plays here and there where you have to let him know that wasn't good enough, but not many."
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