Although his timing isn't quite there yet, the familiar burst of speed and elusive moves that made Marcus Wright one of the most exciting running backs in San Antonio high school football history still stand out like a flashing neon sign on a moonless desert night.
Now a senior running back at the University of the Incarnate Word after playing three of the past four seasons at Georgia Tech, Wright would beg to differ with novelist Thomas Wolfe.
You can go back home again.
Wright, a 2008 Reagan High School graduate, returned to San Antonio after earning his degree at Georgia Tech in May and is relishing the opportunity to end his college career where he wowed fans throughout the area on Friday nights.
"It feels good," Wright said Monday after UIW's first workout in full pads. "I'm having a ball."
Wright, a Parade All-American and U.S. Army All-American as a senior at Reagan, played at Georgia Tech in 2008, 2009 and 2010. He sat out last season after hurting an ankle in preseason workouts, and told Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson he wanted to play his senior season somewhere else.
Johnson accommodated Wright, granting him his release to transfer after he graduated. Wright is eligible to play immediately because he didn't transfer to another school in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division I-A.
UIW, which is preparing for its fourth season in school history and first under head coach Larry Kennan, competes in Division II. The Cardinals open their season at home against Texas College on Sept. 1.
Wright deceptively strong for a player his size
Wright signed with UTSA in February, but the combination of "admission problems" and the departure of offensive coordinator Travis Bush gave him second thoughts about joining the Roadrunners. He visited UIW in the spring and was admitted to the school before he earned his business degree at Georgia Tech.
Less than a week into preseason workouts with the Cardinals, Wright has shown flashes of the skills that set him apart in high school.
"I feel pretty good," Wright said. "I've always been confident in my ability. Out there on the field, it's just trying to get back in rhythm. It's timing. It's a different offense so I have to try to see everything happening, and it's an adjustment I have to make."
Senior linebacker Dakota Mawyer, a Smithson Valley graduate who played against Wright in high school, has had a few flashbacks in practice.
"He's a great player," Mawyer said. "He's got great eyes. He moves very well. He's got great cuts. He's very shifty and has a way to slip through a hole and not take a big hit."
Although only 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds, Wright has the strength to break tackles and packs a punch as a blocker.
"He's not little," Kennan said. "He's just short. He's a strong, powerful back. He can cut real well and he's fast. That's a great combination. What we need to find out is what he does best, and then ask him to do that. That's really what offense is about, taking your personnel and fitting them into your system."
Wright one of most prolific running backs in S.A. history
Wright had a stellar senior season at Reagan, rushing for 3,374 yards and 45 touchdowns. His rushing total that year still stands as a San Antonio record.
"I don't think too much about it," Wright said, referring to his run at Reagan. "It was great while it was great, but it's in the past. Life goes on."
Wright helped the Rattlers to the state quarterfnals in his junior and senior seasons, gaining 2,185 yards and scoring 31 TDs in eight playoff games.
He ran for 7,009 yards in high school, No. 2 in San Antonio history, despite playing less than three seasons at running back.
"He's still got it, for sure," UIW running back Trent Rios said. "It's just going to take him a while to get back in the rhythm. The talent is always going to be there.
Wright will be counted on to take some of the load off Rios, who has led the Cards in rushing each of the past three years despite being slowed by injuries. Only 5-8, 175 pounds himself, Rios left no doubt about what he thinks of sharing time with Wright.
"It helps anytime you can add depth to the team, especially with the beating you take during a season," said Rios, who also graduated from Smithson Valley and played against Wright. "At first it was a little bit surprising when I heard he may be coming here. I thought he would help for sure, although he may take away some of my carries.
"But, really, it's going to keep us fresh at the same time. You can have 30 carries and you're tired, or you can have 15 and you can make more yardage out of that. He's going to be an asset to the team."
Wright and Rios could give Cards potent tandem
While Wright and Rios generally will split time, offensive coordinator Tony Marciano is working on formations that will put them on the field together.
"We can be a dual threat," Rios said.
Wright said the ebb and flow of a game will dictate how many carries he and Rios get.
"Every back will tell you they want the ball 40 times a game, but it's not realistic," Wright said. "You can't take that kind of punishment. Me and Trent, coming in out and of the game, giving fresh looks, we bring different things to the table. Defenses will have to watch out because you can't key on one guy or the other. I think it'll be a good little punch."
Wright saw limited playing time at Georgia Tech, rushing for 265 yards and three TDs in his three seasons as an A-back in Tech's option offense. He played in 24 games with the Yellow Jackets, starting one, and also was one of Tech's best kick returners.
Wright is a welcome addition to a UIW offense that has struggled to make big plays since the Cards started playing in 2009.
"I think he adds some flexibility to the offense," Marciano said. "He gives us a chance to play him and Trent at the same time. They're similar and yet they're different. They're both quick. Trent is extremely quick on inside runs.
"We're still trying to find out what Marcus is going to be best at. He's picking things up. It looks like he's happy to be here. It's been a very nice addition. It gives us a little more maturity."
Wright: Georgia Tech 'bittersweet experience'
Wright gave a thumbs-up to UIW's multiple offense.
"I love this offense," Wright said. "It's the first offense I've had since I left high school where we have so many different looks to give a defense problems. You take good coaching and mix it with the natural ability some of these guys have, you get a pretty good team."
Born in Atlanta, Wright moved to San Antonio at age 5 when his father, who was in the Army, was transferred to Fort Sam Houston. His family later moved from the city, but returned during the summer before Wright's eighth-grade year at Bush Middle School.
After playing on the freshman team at Reagan, Wright made the varsity as a sophomore and played strong safety before he was moved to running back midway through the season. Two years later, he was named the state's Class 5A Offensive Player of the Year.
"I don't think I did anything best," Wright said. "I was a downhill runner, and I just had the speed that if I bounced outside, I could outrun people."
Although Wright's football career didn't pan out at Georgia Tech, he said he has no regrets about his college choice.
"It was kind of a bittersweet experience," Wright said. "Of course, everybody wants to go to the big stage. I was there and didn't get to play how I wanted to, but just the group of guys I played with, the stadiums I got to visit, the teams I got to play, all of that are stories I can tell my children and grandkids someday."
Along, of course, with those of his one season at UIW.