NEWPORT, R.I. — Temple’s Rod Carey, like all football coaches, doesn’t reveal much of his strategy. But he couldn’t help himself when asked how he would use senior Isaiah Wright this coming season.
Wright, a contributor since his freshman season, is listed as a wide receiver, but he could play many positions and roles, especially in the return game.
“He is going to play all over,” Carey said during the American Athletic Conference’s football media day Tuesday. “We will hand him the ball, throw him the ball, and if we have to, snap him the ball.”
Carey, in his first season at Temple after six seasons as head coach at Northern Illinois, said he doesn’t see Wright lining up as a wildcat quarterback, but nothing is off the table.
“He is one of the most versatile guys, has such good ball skills, such good hand-eye coordination, and is such a smooth athlete,” Carey said.
That the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Wright will be utilized more is music to his ears. Last season, when the Owls went 8-5 and were second in the AAC East Division with a 7-1 record, Wright was underutilized as a receiver, his listed position.
Wright never grumbled about the lack of opportunities. But asked now, he said there was a certain degree of frustration.
“At times there was, but you want to control what you can control and that is what I live by and stand by,” he said.
Last year, Wright had 33 receptions for 368 yards and three touchdowns. He carried the ball 19 times for 84 yards and a score.
Where he did his biggest damage was on special teams. Wright averaged 13.1 yards on 19 punt returns and scored twice. He averaged 26.5 yards on 33 kickoff returns and scored once.
Wright was named the AAC special teams player of the year and was selected as a Sporting News All-American as a return man. Wright was second among Football Bowl Subdivision players with 1,122 combined kickoff- and punt-return yards. Wright was one of only three FBS players to score on both a kickoff and punt return last season. For his career, he has five return touchdowns, three on punts and two on kickoffs.
“It was cool,” he said about the Sporting News honor. “I didn’t even expect it, and when it happened, it was a surreal moment. My original goal was just to play college football, and I was being recognized as one of the best to play.”
Wright isn’t known as a speed burner, but he is one of the shiftiest runners around. He has great vision, which helps make him such a dangerous return man, and he is adept at breaking tackles.
“He is so explosive,” said teammate Jovahn Fair, an offensive lineman. “He is such a spark plug when you need it and is somebody you want to block and play for because he always cares about his teammates.”
One of Wright’s punt-return touchdowns last year came in a 27-17 win over South Florida, when Wright gave the Owls the lead for good, 20-17, on a fourth-quarter, 73-yard return.
“Unfortunately, I remember him,” USF coach Charlie Strong said. “Somebody like that, you like to punt away from, but it is so hard and he showed his big-play ability by returning it.”
No doubt, plenty of teams will look to keep the ball away from Wright. He has been an impact player his first three years, but now with a new coach, his role is likely to expand.