Senior Miss. State linebacker has flourished in new defense

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – K.J. Wright’s career has been defined by change, but even more by how he’s handled it.
Mississippi State’s senior linebacker is on his fourth defensive coordinator in as many years. After three seasons as a strongside linebacker, he was moved to the weakside spot this season.
“It’s just part of the game,” Wright said. “Things don’t always go your way, so you’ve just got to roll with whatever happens, and you’re just going to have to adjust on the run. In this game, it’s just something you have to deal with.”
For the third consecutive season, the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder from Olive Branch is second on the team in tackles, with 93 entering today’s Gator Bowl game against Michigan. That rather sums up Wright: A player not quite in the spotlight, even though he has the talent to be.
This year, the spotlight on MSU’s defense has belonged mostly to senior middle linebacker Chris White, who played the weakside spot last season after transferring from Gulf Coast Community College. White leads the team with 105 tackles and won the Conerly Trophy, awarded annually to the top college football player in Mississippi.
Wright said he’s not bothered by the attention given White.
“That’s fine. Chris, he made a lot of plays, and that’s just fine. As long as we have a winning record and a lot of good stuff, I’m just satisfied with whatever happens.”
‘Like Jordan and Pippen’
White and Wright have worked well together, and they’re two of the biggest reasons MSU’s defense has made such significant progress this season. Coordinator Manny Diaz put them where they are precisely because of how often they would be working in tandem.
“I think me and Chris, I think we’re the best two linebackers out there,” Wright said. “We’re like Jordan and Pippen. We’re just always talking to each other every play, we just know what each other’s likes and dislikes are on the field.”
It’s hard to say which is Jordan, but Wright possesses a versatility nobody else on State’s defense does. Besides his tackles and 7.0 tackles-for-loss and 3.0 sacks, Wright has a team-high nine pass break-ups.
“We’ve asked K.J. to do a lot of different things this year, partly because of his versatility, and partly just because of what we have,” Diaz said. “There’s some things that we’re lacking. K.J. might be our best linebacker, but he also may be one of our best defensive ends.”
Said White, “He can play any kind of defense. They talk about him playing a 3-4 outside linebacker in the (NFL), he could play middle or outside. It’s really up to you what you want (him) to play, and he can definitely play anything.”
And he’ll do so without a word of complaint.

Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@djournal.com.