Prep Baseball: Carson’s Wright makes right turn
By Mike London
LANDIS ó Carson graduate Zach Wright admits there were times he did the wrong thing, said the wrong thing or was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Still, he doesn’t mind talking candidly about it. He figures there are young guys out there who can learn from his mistakes.
“I made some bad choices and bad decisions,” Wright said. “I learned just how easy it is to get in trouble if you’re not thinking.”
It’s too late for Wright, who had only one varsity year, to make an all-county team, but his best days are ahead. He’s a natural athlete and has been recruited to play baseball at Belmont Abbey.
Chris Anderson, Belmont Abbey’s pitching coach, worked with South Rowan’s Legion program in Wright’s younger days, and he saw enough to believe Wright can compete in Division II.
South’s current Legion coach David Wright’s first season was 2006, and he watched Zach struggle.
“Zach is such a gifted athlete that he expected baseball to be easy for him,” Wright said. “He was pitching, hitting, playing outfield, and it was all just a little overwhelming for him at the point where he was then. This summer I see someone who has matured a lot. He’s a different kid than two years ago. He’s very coachable now. He’s made a 360-degree turnaround.”
Wright remembers getting the news he’d be going to Carson when it opened, instead of returning to South Rowan where he’d spent his freshman and sophomore years. He wasn’t mature enough to handle the 3-2 slider life tossed him and his attitude spiraled downward.
“I found out I was going to have to go to the new school, and I wanted to stay at South bad,” Wright said. “My whole family had gone to South.”
Wright was part of Carson’s first football team in the fall of ’06, but he fouled up shortly after he entered the school through a back door to watch a volleyball game in the gym.
“The resource officer asked me if I’d paid and one thing led to another,” Wright said. “The officer followed me outside and wanted my name. I wouldn’t give it.”
Wright’s refusal to cooperate escalated into an appearance before a magistrate. That led to nine months of probation.
“That was all for ball,” Wright said, shaking his head. “And my life in school had always been sports.”
Wright lost his junior seasons ó the rest of football, plus basketball and baseball. For someone who’s fast track to popularity had always been his ability to excel physically, it was a devastating blow.
Wright could have gone either way in the months that followed, but he went the right way. Rather than giving up academically after he was banished from athletics, Wright, a bright student, concentrated on his guitar and class, and his grades improved.
Wright credits social studies teacher James Pope and principal Henry Kluttz.
“I’ll always have a soft spot for Mr. Pope because he was supportive and kept me interested in school,” Wright said. “A lot of people doubted me, and Mr. Kluttz didn’t have to give me a second chance, but he did.”
Wright who is 6-foot-2 and about 190 pounds runs a 4.5 40-yard dash. He returned to the athletic field last fall as a senior and produced 101/2 sacks as a defensive end.
His emotions spilled over when Carson played South for the first timeó he had 21/2 sacks, two fumble recoveries and multiple penalties in that one ó but mostly he turned in solid outings that were underpublicized.
“Once sports were gone, it opened my eyes and I realized how much ball meant to me,” Wright said. “Baseball is what I love most, but just getting back on the field for the football team my senior year and giving my all meant a lot. I’d let the coaches down once, so I didn’t know how it would go, but Coach (Mark) Woody and Coach (Travis) Billings made me feel good. They made me feel like my being out there mattered.”
Wright didn’t play basketball as a senior, choosing instead to spend the winter preparing for a baseball comeback. He did try indoor track and high-jumped 6 feet, good for seventh place in the 1A-2A-3A state meet.
Wright’s Carson baseball debut as a right fielder and pitcher wasn’t earth-shaking ó .278 and 12 RBIs as a hitter; 1-5 with 21 strikeouts and 21 walks on the mound ó but coach Chris Cauble saw an athlete with tools and a person who was a good teammate.
“As a teacher and coach, you hope to turn around some lives, hope to see kids get straightened out,” he said. “Zach did that. His junior year he got off on the wrong path, but he’s a smart kid academically and got his life turned around. As a first-year senior for us, I didn’t know how he would react, but he was a leader from Day 1.”
A lefty hitter and thrower, Wright’s most obvious contributions to the Cougars were sprawling catches and sprinting grabs in right field. He was aggressive and fearless and made a half-dozen plays few prep athletes can make.
“On the mound, you could tell he was rusty, but he was just getting back into it,” Cauble said. “As far as pure athletic ability, I’d put him up there with Wade Moore.”
Moore, who now plays baseball at N.C. State, played for Cauble when he coached at West Rowan. Moore also broke records as a tailback.
Wright will probably pitch jayvee games for Belmont Abbey in 2009, but he could be a big factor down the road.
Wright is 2-3 with the South Legion squad this summer, including a sharp, 10-strikeout complete game against Kannapolis. His diving catch in right field won a game against Mocksville.
“Zach’s still raw, but he has skills,” David Wright said. “You pull for him because he’s overcome a good bit.”
It’s good Zach remembers what he’s overcome and is willing to talk about it, but his future is a clean slate.
“My dream has been college baseball and I realize I’m getting an opportunity not everyone gets,” Wright said. “Even without a junior year, I’m getting a chance. I used to worry no one would even look at me.”
And if Wright could give advice to a young athlete who’s feeling overwhelmed?
“I would tell them if something goes wrong to keep trying,” Wright said. “Just keep trying. There are people who still believe in you.”
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