Q & A with Northwest Mississippi’s Jack Wright
John Davis: How have the first seven months gone for you?
Jack Wright: It’s just been incredibly busy. We knew when we got here that there was going to be a lot of work to do, and 95 percent of our time has been personnel-related. That means recruiting primarily, but on top of that, also getting transcripts in and getting financial aid done. All the little steps to the process that a lot of people don’t realize involve getting kids in school, getting them in the dorm, getting them in classes and getting them here to start summer workouts.
Davis: How did your spring go? Were there 14, 15 practices that you got in?
Wright: It was not a very productive spring to be honest. That shouldn’t surprise too many people I don’t think. I’ve been at the junior college level now for six years and even when we had really good teams here before, in the spring you just didn’t get a whole lot done. That’s strictly because you’re dealing with one returning class. At the high school level, you have your ninth graders coming up and your two returning classes. And at the four-year college level, you have three or four returning classes in order to be able to fill all the spots on the depth chart. When we finished the spring, we had four offensive linemen and two linebackers. We cut things short. We just weren’t getting a lot done. It wasn’t all bad. We were able to make evaluations on an individual basis. We wanted to see how well a lot of these kids ran. We wanted to see who had some speed.
Davis: But you feel better knowing what you’ve got having had a spring. You know what to expect from your roster now, right?
Wright: I do after the last week. We’ve had two summer workouts up to this point, and I know more than I did a week ago. We know what our roster is going to look like, for the most part.
Davis: Do you feel like the change has been good, well received? Last year was a tough year and everybody that knows Northwest football knows that there is a reason why you’re a new coach. Do you feel like everybody is excited about where you want to go?
Wright: I don’t know how everybody else feels, but I’m incredibly excited. It was an incredibly positive change for me and the coaching staff that is here with me now. We all feel the same way about Northwest. We all like it here. And we think, as a group, that we have a ton of potential here. Now we have a lot of work to do. We have to continue to accumulate talent, class after class, in order to be able to compete with the teams in our league. But we feel like we’re taking steps to doing that everyday.
Davis: Did you do a lot of change, or did you do a little change? Is it kind of gradually week-to-week as you incorporate your style of football?
Wright: Well, when I first got here, it was a gradual change. And that was because it was really just a period of evaluation. My first seven months were sitting back, seeing who was here on the roster from the year before and seeing how those guys may, or may not, fit in our scheme. Sitting back, watching the workouts. Seeing how things were done academically. And then at the same time, the last six months gave us some time to put our plan on paper and to see how that was going to fit within our time frame of our student athletes that we’re allowed to be around. The budget that we were going to be given, the number of coaches and things that have to get done – it was a gradual process at first, but now that we’ve got these players on campus that we’re going to be competing with next year, it’s 100 percent what we’re trying to get done. We don’t know any other way to do it. We’re going to have wholesale change and go to our offense. We brought Benjy Parker in here from Troy to run our defense, and he’s completely running his scheme. It’s been a 100 percent reversal of what the previous staff had done.
Davis: What do you think you’re going to feel when you get on the field against Jones in that first game? I know that’s a little while away, but have you thought much about what it could feel like or do you even look at that and just take it day-by-day?
Wright: I’ve thought about it, and I think it’s going to be a wide range of emotions. Of course I’m going to be a little nervous. I think players on both rosters will be nervous. David Thornton, who just got the head coaching job at Jones, is a first-time head coach, so we’ll be in the same shoes. Part of me, too, is going to feel comfortable. I was on that sideline for five years, and we had a lot of success. I’m looking forward to getting back down there and calling plays and trying to put our guys in successful positions. Hopefully they can execute for us and win some games. I think there is also going to be a little sense of relief, too, to be honest. There is so much work that goes into that first game. You have months and months of recruiting, months and months of planning. Our season is only nine games, and you have year-round effort going into the first of nine opportunities. So I think there will be a little relief saying we finally got to this point.
Davis: How has recruiting gone and what was the response from the area kids, Oxford and Lafayette specifically, about you being back and people that you hired, being familiar with them?
Wright: One of the things – when you look at our staff – we have guys that are from here. Coach (Jonathan) Webster and I are both South Panola products. Benjy Parker is a Calhoun County native. Scott Oakley is a Senatobia native. And Travis Macon, our D-line coach, is a Starkville native. The thing that those four guys and I have is that we’ve coached in this league. (Oxford coach) Johnny Hill and (Lafayette coach) Eric Robertson have a personal relationship with us already. They’ve seen us on the sidelines and they’ve seen us come by school every year. There was no introduction process. In fact, both of those guys sent a text message that day I was announced saying congratulations and saying they looked forward to seeing me up this way again. I think it’s been all positive as far as those two programs go. We have a good relationship with both of the big schools in Lafayette County, and that’s certainly something we want to cultivate. Those two schools produce a lot of good football players every year. So we want to make sure we maintain a good relationship with them and, as many times as possible, get those kids on our campus and make them feel comfortable with us. I’m just excited to call those schools a couple of “our” schools.
Davis: And what about recruiting overall? You still want to sign “local” kids to play for the Rangers, correct?
Wright: The state is open now and these kids can go anywhere, and so we have to work really hard at getting those kids. If you look at our recruiting class, and this is something we’re really proud of, we signed 14 kids out of the old 11-county district. I’m very pleased with that. Some say, “Well you signed 38 guys,” and we did sign a large number, but when you look around the state, some of these other schools only signed three or four from out of their old district. I think that’s a point of frustration with some of the local fan bases. They want to be able to go to a junior college game and see some local kids. Our area is always going to be the very first place that we go. We spend a lot of time figuring out logistics on recruiting, and the 11 counties that Northwest is responsible for are going to get a lot of our time and a lot of our attention. Ultimately, it’s up to the kid where he chooses to go. We’re in a competition for these top athletes, and we’re aiming to win. We are going to be competing for those top guys harder than any other junior college, I can promise you.