AUBURN, Mass. –- Everybody in Auburn has their own favorite Mark Wright run.
“You ever seen his YouTube highlights? Ohh, the spin move,” exclaims linebacker Nick Thomas, his voice growing more animated as he takes us through a developing play from midfield.
Fullback Josh Furmanick is quick to cut him off: “No, the Northbridge game.”
“The one where he fakes out three guys?” Thomas asks, getting giddy again. “That was something out of NCAA Football [video game].”
On the heels of a delightful revelation last fall, everybody these days is quick to sing the praises of Wright, the latest in a long line of decorated Rockets running backs to put up video game numbers in a patented smash mouth running scheme that has captivated Southern Worcester County since the turn of the Millennium.
After a dominant stretch from 2008-12, going 63-2 with five Super Bowl titles and an historic 41-game win streak, the Rockets hit a funk last fall. Returning just one starter, they were a green bunch, finishing 8-3 but taking an early exit in the MIAA Division 5 Central tournament. It was a grand coming out party for Wright, however, leading the Central Mass. district in carries (258), rushing yards (2,111) and rushing touchdowns (25), juking and jiving his 5-foot-8, 180-pound frame through many an arm tackle.
Boston College, UMass, New Hampshire and Wagner are among the most notable colleges that have taken interest in Wright over the offseason. He's timed as fast as 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and last week reportedly ran a hand-timed 4.0-second shuttle at a camp on the turf at Auburn High.
While not blessed with burners, Wright demonstrates a patient ability to follow his burly blockers through the hole, then carve through traffic in a manner that sets up second-level blocks to squeeze out additional yardage. As the shuttle time might imply, his agility -- and the change of pace with which he wields it -- is probably his best asset.
His two favorite moves are a quick one-step cut and a spin move, sometimes combining both. Unlike some runners, Wright likes to spin through his defenders, rather than around, as shown in these three clips below from last year's playoff loss to Bartlett:
(The third clip, by the way, is Wright's personal favorite from last season)
Even the soft-spoken Wright himself struggles to describe how he developed such live hips.
"I don't even know, just years after years of watching great players," he laughed.
"It comes to a point where, you can only run so many drills, it comes down to genetics. I think Mark is just a gifted athlete. But then, it's also what he does after the gifts," Rockets head coach Jeff Cormier said. "There's a lot of players that are gifted athletically. It's the special ones that take that and build on it with work ethic, and Mark has a great work ethic.
"He does a nice job setting his blocks up. I think he reads the holes well. I think if you give Mark a little bit of a window, he can find positive yards for you."
Under Cormier's reign at Auburn, stretching back into the late 1990's, the Rockets have built a storied tradition of running backs. Asked about historical comparisons, Cormier drew back to Jake Guertin, the feature back on the Rockets' 2005 squad that shut out Pittsfield's St. Joseph Central in the Division 2A Central/West Super Bowl.
"Neither one of those guys was excessively fast -- guys like [Bryan] DeSimone, [Tyler] Desjardins, those guys were one step and it was over. Blazing fast," Cormier said. "Mark is not a blazing fast runner, nor was Jake. But they compensate by the ability to set their blocks up, by the ability to change speed in the hole, by the ability to change direction."
But Cormier, famous around these parts for his Belichickian prose, is also quick to remind that all of those Rockets greats turned in great senior seasons, an item left unfinished for Wright. After a strong offseason in the weight room, putting on close to 10 pounds of muscle, Cormier expects Wright to improve on his pass-blocking skills.
That last part is crucial. The one returning starter on last year's team was not Wright, it was two-way lineman Will Greelish. If there was any doubt of his abilities before, Wright certainly isn't sneaking up on anyone anymore. Dare we say, with an unusually deeper stable of receivers to work with, and an intriguing quarterback battle brewing as the Rockets enter training camp, we may see them throw the ball more.
"I don't think it's a big secret, people are going to scheme to stop Mark," Cormier said. "That's going to put a lot of pressure on our offensive line immediately, and that's going to put pressure on us to throw the ball. I think what Mark did last year puts greater emphasis on us developing on the line of scrimmage as well as being more efficient in the passing game."