Scooby Wright's star is rising at Arizona

When asked recently about the hardest hit he ever has taken, Cal quarterback Jared Goff had a surprising reply.

“In college or ever?”

Goff was sacked 32 times as a true freshman last year, so the concept that none of those measured up to something from high school was tough to accept. Then he explained.

“Because Scooby Wright hit me really hard in a high school game … that might have been it.”

Wright, who was named the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week after recording three sacks and three forced fumbles in Arizona’s 59-37 win against WSU on Saturday, remembers the game against Goff well. Not only because it was a playoff game that ended his team’s season, but because of what he endured in the process.

While playing offense in the middle of the second quarter, Wright fractured his ankle but stayed in the game.

“I attempted to play, let’s put it that way,” Wright said. “I wasn’t too active. My coach tried to take me out and I said no. I think I played the whole game.”

The whole game … with a fractured ankle. That’s not normal.

But for those who have watched Wright develop into one of the nation’s best linebackers, that Wright wasn’t willing to remove himself from that game probably isn’t all that surprising. Since starting Arizona’s first game last year as a true freshman, has developed a reputation for toughness and passion.

“It’s so fun to watch him play because every snap is going to be the last snap he ever plays,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “You hope all your players emulate that, but he truly does all the time, even in practice, and I think that’s what makes him so effective.”

Through seven games, Wright ranks first in the country in forced fumbles (five), third in sacks (nine), third in tackles for loss (14) and No. 12 in tackles per game. Not bad for a guy who was mostly shunned by recruiters during his standout career north of San Francisco at Cardinal Newman High in Santa Rosa, California.

“Utah, Nevada, Boise State, San Diego State came by and saw my film, but I never really heard anything,” said Wright, whose light recruitment is honored by his Twitter handle, @TwoStarScoob. “Boise State didn’t think I was fast enough.”

Whether the lack of recruiting interest played a motivating role for Wright once he got to Arizona is insignificant, but, regardless, he arrived with a simple mindset: “Don’t let anyone outwork me.”

He hasn’t and opposing coaches are taking notice. Count UCLA coach Jim Mora, whose No. 22 Bruins host No. 12 Arizona on Saturday, as a big fan.

“I love him. First of all, I love his name and, secondly, I love the energy that he plays with,” Mora said. “He’s a tremendous player. I love those guys that play with their heart. I love the passion he has for the game. I think he plays the run well, I think he’s a good rusher, I think he can cover. But the thing I most respect about him is the energy and passion he plays with.”

While he got by on effort and instincts last season, when he was named honorable mention All-Pac-12, this year has been different. A significant amount of time in both the film and weight rooms has the 6-foot-1, 246-pound sophomore exceedingly more confident.

“It’s so much different this year because I actually know what I’m doing,” he said. “I am more comfortable with our scheme and am able to not play blind. I know what’s going on around me and can pick up on things the offense is doing.”

With just one loss, Arizona (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) is one five teams that could still conceivably emerge from the Pac-12 South. That's the goal, and Wright said going to Oregon and winning -- which was sealed by his strip of Marcus Mariota -- proved that if they execute they can be as good as any team in the conference.