BOULDER - Yuri Wright
arrived at the University of Colorado in late May with baggage in tow. A couple of months before, Jon Embree
had characterized Wright as "quiet, almost shy," but given what Wright was dragging behind him, the CU football coach's characterization wasn't roundly believed.
Parker Orms was among the non-believers until he spent time around Wright, whose questionable tweets prompted expulsion from his high school (Don Bosco in New Jersey) and created a national firestorm late in the 2012 recruiting cycle.
But once Wright was around Orms, a junior defensive back, and the rest of his Buffs teammates, guess what? Embree was judged to be a pretty fair judge of character. Said Orms of Wright, "He came in and was quiet, really didn't say much . . . it was so different from what you hear with the whole Twitter thing, you know? I was expecting something way different."
As for Wright, he frankly didn't know what to expect or how he would be received in Boulder. The common perception of him probably was closer to Orms' than Embree's, and he came in aware that all he could do to change it was be the person/player that Embree believed he had signed in February.
Wright is thankful more than you can imagine for Embree's trust. He contends he's relegated his past to the past. "Talking to the coaches, talking to everybody here, that definitely made me feel a lot more comfortable," he told me Wednesday after lunch in the Dal Ward Athletic Center. "I feel like they trust me not to do something like that again."
The bigger question is, does he trust himself?
"Yeah, I trust myself. I learned my lesson . . . remembering how I felt then, I know it's something I'll never do again."
Embree heard that, too, and he has taken Wright at his word since other schools backed off of the highly recruited corner late last winter. Orms also says he has no reason to doubt Wright's sincerity when Wright says, "When I go back and look at it, I question why I said some of those things. It was something that's definitely not me."
"I kind of see that in myself, too," said Orms, "because I know when I get on Twitter my personality kind of comes out a little bit differently than people are used to. You've got to keep a handle on it, especially at this level. But he came in and was totally different from what you might expect.
"I've put some things on Twitter or Facebook or whatever, and it's just like an in-the-moment thing. Then my dad or my grandma or someone will be like, 'so what were you trying to say there? You'd better take that down.' Then I think about it and take it down . . . whatever they think is right, I do."
Unfortunately, Wright didn't have that kind of monitoring in place, but Embree has addressed that for all of his players. He has established a first line of defense in the social networking world, appointing Recruiting and Operations Assistant Scott Unrein to monitor the team's social media activity.
Embree introduced Unrein to the Buffs at Sunday night's first team meeting of camp, telling his players their tweeting and Facebook activity will be accountable to Unrein and ultimately to their head coach. Embree also detailed for the Buffs what were acceptable topics and language, as well as subjects pertaining to the team. Bold-faced in his players' handbook is this directive: 7. Don't twitter or Facebook any information about teammates or program.
Don't think Embree's 2012 social media guidelines are the "Wright Rules." All were in place last season, with Unrein's appointment as a monitor being the only significant change in how Embree is dealing with social networking.
So far, said Unrein, all players have been in compliance: "It's not been an issue at all."
Here's what Embree told me about social networking last winter before signing day, after the Wright tweeting story had exploded and prior to conducting a team meeting on being smart with tweets: "I don't want to ban it; it's part of their lives. But there have to be guidelines, an understanding of what's right and wrong. Some kids we get, we have to raise them - and that's just a part of it. Maybe in their world (objectionable tweets) that's normal. But there's a different definition of normal; we have to dialogue and manage it."
Wright would like to push his recent past far enough into the background that it's never mentioned again. He's mature enough (now) to know that's not happening until he proves himself on the field and writes Chapter One at CU. He believes he can do it.
"Definitely . . . I think there's a chance that I could be playing really early," Wright said. "My mindset was to come in here and take a starting job . . . it takes some time to learn the defense, but some of the stuff I already knew from studying during the summer and from 7-ons. They definitely helped; I got to see and actually be active on the field while learning things.
"I definitely feel like I'm competitive now, but some of the things I want to work on are learning the defense better - that's basically it. I feel like once I learn the defense that it'll show I'm getting better; the physical things I think I can do now. And I think (learning the defense) will make me more competitive. The more you know, the better you are."
At 6-2, 175, Wright conceded, "I might look a little skinny and small," but added, "I'm like a tall cornerback." He's not targeting a huge weight gain, eyeing a top weight of 180-185 pounds. He said he's able to "run with everybody so far," and has been playing both corners.
"I think he's going to be a good player for us this year," Orms said. "He's got the ability, he's fast, he's smart and he seems like he can make plays . . . I'm really impressed with how well he knows the game of football."
But, added Orms, freshmen make mistakes and Wright is, after all, a freshman. This isn't high school; responsibilities go beyond what athleticism and superior ability can mask. Said Orms: "He's used to 'cover three' where you can line up and do kind of whatever you want. But when the ball's snapped here, you've got to know where you're at and what you're supposed to do. You've got a responsibility and you've got to know it . . . it's just a lot different."
Orms has known Wright for all of 2 1/2 months and watched him warm up - albeit gradually - to his new teammates. Orms also knows something about personal growth and moving past mistakes; he served a four-game suspension early last season for violating team rules and can relate to Wright's wrong.
"He's just like any other college football player," Orms said. "I think he's better now than he was before. I think he's grown even since he's been up here, for sure. I think if he gets on the field this year, (his baggage) will all go away. If he doesn't get in any trouble, stays off the social media-type things, he'll be fine."
Wright has no plans to be overly social with his phone. In fact, as for overusing Twitter, he claimed, "I get scared even going on. I don't pay that much attention to it anymore. I pretty much know how to handle the situation now. When I did what I did, there were people calling me, asking so many questions . . . I think I know how to deal with it now. I'm like past it now."
The Buffs believe him.
BUFF BITS: Embree answered the daily question about quarterbacks after practice, saying “each guy has had maybe 15 plays with the first team, so it’s way too early.” … when asked if it’s a disadvantage for Jordan Webb to learn a new system, Embree replied “I’ll ask you this question, ‘How big of a disadvantage is it for those other guys having never played?’ It evens out, terminology may be different, but he’s done a great job managing it, he has game experience, so he’s calm, he doesn’t panic.” … To the other long time topic, Paul Richardson, Embree stated that “he’s doing a lot of stuff on the side, but nothing with the team. He’s catching passes, watching practice and taking mental reps. He’s still ahead of the curve, we’ll have to see how he continues to progress, see if he can keep at this pace.” Embree noted the quick returns of Jerry Rice and Rod Woodson from similar injuries but was quick to note that Rice caught a touchdown but Steve Atwater dinged him up again quickly in his first game back.