Sakeen Wright just had his football career put on hold, but the 2001 graduate of Glassboro High is not going to crumble, even if the league he has been playing in has, at least temporarily.
Wright was a member of the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League. On Monday the AFL announced that it has suspended operations for the 2009 season. The league expressed hope of returning in 2010, but nothing is assured, especially with the current economic situation.
So Wright is out of a job, but not optimism.
"It was shocking, but it didn't bother me that badly," Wright said in a phone conversation. "I am not defined by being an Arena Football player."
But still. . . .
"It's kind of strange, one minute it's on and then off and then on again," he said about the reports the last few weeks that kept fluctuating like the stock market, with similar results. "Hopefully it will pick up again and I will try to stay in shape and be ready if the league comes around."
The 26-year-old Wright, who mainly played linebacker, was third on his team with 631/2 tackles. Wright said that he is recovering from knee surgery for a torn meniscus and that the time off could be a blessing in disguise.
Then again, even losing his main source of income doesn't compare with the ordeal Wright faced as an eighth grader when it was discovered he had a brain tumor. The tumor was benign, but he wasn't able to play football until his junior year.
"After going through that, you learn to deal with just about any situation," Wright said. "I thank God with the way things have turned out."
In two seasons at Glassboro, he went 22-1 as the starting quarterback. As a senior in 2000, Wright was named The Inquirer's first-team all-area quarterback.
Wright then attended East Carolina, and later transferred to Rowan, where he played receiver and recorded 23 touchdown receptions in two seasons.
Besides what he has gone through in his personal life, Wright also knows a little about perseverance in a football sense. He began his AFL career with the Austin Wranglers. When that team folded, he was selected in the dispersal draft by Cleveland.
Last year, Cleveland advanced to the National Division championship before losing to the eventual AFL champion Soul, 70-35, in Philadelphia.
Growing up in Glassboro, Wright knew all about the reputation of the rabid Philadelphia fans, but he got to experience it firsthand as an opponent.
"The Philly fans were pretty tough," he said laughing. "I had a pretty good turnout for the game from family and friends."
Wright, who is living in Glassboro, has plenty of friends from his hometown. He has become a mentor for many of the young athletes, and this fall he was an assistant coach at his alma mater. For the second consecutive year Glassboro went 12-0 and won the South Jersey Group 1 title.
"I enjoy coaching and enjoy coming back to the school and sharing what I learned with the players," he said.
Wright said he would like to continue coaching and apparently he has a bright future.
"He is great working with the players," said Glassboro coach Herb Neilio, recently named as The Inquirer's South Jersey coach of the year. "He has a lot of knowledge and relates well to the youngsters."
Wright will continue to hone his coaching skills and he also trains area athletes. He is also working as a substitute teacher.
Despite the AFL being in limbo, Wright considers himself fortunate that he has been able to play for pay in a sport he loves so much.
"There are so many ballplayers out there and very few jobs and to participate in a sport that you dream of playing is a blessing," Wright said.
Instead of bitter feelings, Wright has taken a positive view. Maybe it's because of going through the ordeal with his tumor, but Wright remains grounded.
His positive outlook on a life he truly appreciates living is among his many strengths.
That's why it will take more than the suspension of a league to cloud Wright's appreciation of all that he has and can give to others.