The past few years have seen wide receiver Jarius Wright go from looking like a potential star to a forgotten man on the Vikings roster.
Last season, Wright played in only eight games, grabbing 14 receptions for 67 yards, both easily career lows, and one score.
Still he never got down, and that is paying off this season. Having survived cuts to make it back for a sixth NFL season, Wright has played in all seven games this season and has seven receptions for 93 yards and a score.
He played especially well Sunday against Baltimore with Michael Floyd and Stefon Diggs sidelined, grabbing three passes for 54 yards. Two of the receptions were third down conversions and the other one went for 30 yards. And for his performance he was given one of the game balls following the Vikings’ 24-19 victory.
“He makes plays when he gets the opportunities,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “The third down, couple diving third down catches I believe it was. That’s typically what he does when he gets in there. He’s a great kid and works real hard and when he gets his number called he usually produces.”
Wright said he knew when he made the team this fall that coaches had faith in him. “I don’t think that the coaches doubted me, otherwise I wouldn’t have been out there,” he said. “You know with me, it’s all about opportunities, and God willing, I’m going to make the most out of every one of them.”
In his first four seasons with the Vikings, from 2012 to ’15, Wright averaged 31 receptions and 444 yards per season while scoring seven touchdowns. He was a big-play threat, with seven catches of at least 38 yards, including an 87-yarder against the Jets in December 2014.
It’s amazing to consider that Wright, only 28 years old, is the second-longest tenured player on the Vikings offense, trailing only tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Wright said his experience is what had him ready to step up when the team found out Floyd wouldn’t be ready last weekend.
“I’m a vet in this league,” he said. “I know how things happen, so I’m always ready to go if anybody goes down. I’m always ready to go regardless of the situation, and I know you have to be like that in the NFL.”
Earlier this season, Wright spoke on being drafted in the fourth round, No. 118 overall, out of Arkansas by the Vikings in 2012.
“I was very surprised when the Vikings took me,” he said. “At the combine, I didn’t have any meetings with them or really talk to them, but I do remember we had [special teams] coach [Mike] Priefer at my pro day. I really didn’t expect to go to the Vikings.”
The Vikings also drafted fellow Razorbacks receiver Greg Childs 16 picks after Wright. Childs was not only Wright’s college teammate, but they went to Warren High School together in northeastern Arkansas. Childs’ pro career was cut short by devastating injuries to both his knees.
“It was like a dream come true having not only someone you played college football with, but also went to high school with, it was kind of surreal,” Wright said.
Still he said he has had nothing but positive experiences with the Vikings. He said he spent the offseason working on his conditioning to get back on the field, and he hired a personal chiropractor.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a blessing to be able to play in the NFL,” Wright said. “I just try to cherish every moment. And you know, how many players get a chance to stay on the same team for six years? I still think it is a blessing to be here.”
East Coast lands at U
It’s a credit to Richard Pitino’s ability to recruit that the Gophers men’s basketball coach could get two of the top athletes out of New York and New Jersey, Isaiah Washington and Jamir Harris, to come to Minnesota.
Harris comes from a long line of athletes. His father, Laquan, played three years at safety for the Rutgers football team before getting injured, and two uncles played in the NFL.
So how did a kid from a football family on the East Coast end up playing basketball with the Gophers?
“My dad actually played basketball and football in high school and a lot of people had mixed emotions on whether he should go to college for basketball or football,” Harris said. “But he happened to choose football. Basketball was also in our veins and our blood as well, that just happened to be the route that I chose.”
Asked if he considered Rutgers, he said: “I honestly didn’t really think about it that much. I just felt when I came here on my visit that I felt extremely comfortable here. At the end of the day, that was the most important. I wanted to go somewhere where I could feel comfortable and get the best of both worlds academically and basketball-wise. I felt like Minnesota was the best place for me.”
Harris was a three-star athlete coming out of the Patrick School, where he won a state title his senior year and averaged 12.5 points per game. The school has produced players such as Kyrie Irving, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Samuel Dalembert and Al Harrington.
Harris also had a connection with Washington, the other big Gophers recruit this season. “We actually played against each other a lot growing up,” Harris said. “We have been really good friends since we played each other in a lot of tournaments since we were younger. We played against each other for a while, me and Isaiah knew each other for a while.”
When it came to his strong points, Harris said shooting three-pointers and playing defense stand out.
“I take pride in my craft. I’m working on my game day in and day out, as far as shooting off the dribble and getting it off the catch and being able to create for my teammates, as well,” he said. “Defensively I take pride in being able to get stops for my teammates on the other end of the floor.”
• Lauri Markkanen, the 7-foot Finn the Timberwolves drafted seventh overall and then traded to Chicago in the Jimmy Butler deal, is off to a great start. He is averaging 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game and is shooting 45.5 percent from three-point range. He became the first NBA player in history to hit 10 three-pointers in his first three games after he went 5-for-8 from long range in the Bulls’ 119-112 loss to Cleveland on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, the two Bulls acquisitions in the deal, have yet to play as LaVine continues to rehab his torn knee ligament and Dunn is dealing with a broken left index finger.
• Former Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson, who left the school after an assault charge and briefly attended Rutgers before landing at East Carolina, was signed to the practice roster of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org