He was different from the rest in significant ways: He was the only one from outside of Texas and he was the first recruit from the state of Alaska in Rice football history.
“When I went to football camps, people were saying I had to move to Texas or California or somewhere I could get noticed,” Wright told Sports Illustrated in 2014. “They saw I was raw and had talent, but they didn’t think it would be discovered in Alaska.”
At the time of his signing, Rice head coach David Bailiff was effusive in his praise of Wright, “Lance is a big athletic wide receiver that can stretch the field vertically. He has excellent ball skills and is very good running the ball after the catch.”
Wright was redshirted for the 2014 season and made his debut for Rice in a season-opening win over Wagner last year. In that game, he led all Rice receivers in receptions with five. But in the third week he was hurt, and the promising 6-3 wide receiver was lost for the remainder of the season.
Wright has experience overcoming injuries, including ankle and knee injuries, early in his high school career. Combined with his remote location in Alaska, it dimmed any interest from Division I schools. In 2012, his junior season, he returned to the gridiron better than ever, catching caught 47 passes for 1,017 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Still, Wright remained far away from the attention of any schools. In Wright’s senior year at Fairbanks’ North Pole High School there were 8,000 seniors in Rivals.com’s prospect database. Of those, he was the only player listed from Alaska.
“It’s frustrating,” he told SI. “You go to a camp and you see someone you’re better than, but that player gets pulled aside and offered a scholarship based on where they live. There are athletes up here that could play Division I football, but they don’t have the guidance that the lower 48 [states] kids have.”
Early in 2013, Rice quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Larry Edmonson came across online film of Wright. The coach invited the Alaskan to Rice in June 2013 for a workout to gauge – outside the context of Alaskan high school football — his talent. After 20 minutes of sprints (Wright was one of the top 200- and 400-meter sprinters in Alaska) and running pass patterns, the wide receiver had a Division I offer. He committed to the Owls several weeks later.
“I didn’t want to move in high school for recruiting,” Wright said in 2014. “I just wanted to be someone who made it from Alaska.”
Wright did not suffer from senioritis. His senior year he had another outstanding campaign and was named Alaska’s “Mr. Football” as the best player in the state. In the classroom he was a member of the National Honor Society and a recipient of the Presidential Excellence Award for his academics.
The next step of his football career took him to a field over 4,000 miles from his high school field to Rice Stadium in Houston. The wide receiver is now obscured by roster numbers on the Owls’ depth chart, rather than by geographic distance.
He has an opportunity to start at a position where Rice will need production in 2016 to return to a bowl game, but is anything but a lock. Former starting quarterback Driphus Jackson graduated and Tyler Stehling, a 6-6 senior who showed promise as a backup in 2015, now steps into the pocket.
On the first day of camp, Wright showed his return to form on a short crossing pattern, catching the ball out in front, tucking it away, and streaking up the right sideline. In one play, he illustrated that the talents that Bailiff heralded upon his arrival from Alaska remain intact.
Along with Wright, Rice is trying to return to form after going 5-7 in 2015. The Owls made three consecutive bowl appearances in 2012-2014, winning two. They begin 2016 on Sept. 1 against Western Kentucky in Bowling Green.
Photo courtesy Rice University Athletics