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For Dexter Wright, it hardly seems like a little more than four years have passed since he graduated from Hunt High as one of the most successful athletes in school history and joined the North Carolina State University football team.
But Wright, who was The Wilson Times Athlete of the Year in 2014, has one last game to play for the Wolfpack. The redshirt senior safety will take the field in an N.C. State uniform for the final time on New Year’s Eve at the Gator Bowl against No. 21 Texas A&M in Jacksonville, Florida. However, Wright hopes that it won’t be his final football game as he looks to being possibly taken in the NFL draft next spring.
Wright completed work on his bachelor’s degree in social work this semester but participated in the graduation ceremony at N.C. State in May. He did an internship last summer with The Bair Foundation, a Christian foster home and adoption agency in Raleigh.
Wright was a three-sport star at Hunt. He, along with a handful of his Hunt teammates, were the only players in Wilson County history to play in four North Carolina High School Athletic Association regional championship games. He was a three-time all-conference selection in football and, as a senior, helped the Warriors reach the NCHSAA 3-A championship game in basketball. He also qualified for the state 3-A meet in track and field.
Wright’s Wolfpack career was stalled by injuries twice. After redshirting as a freshman in 2014, Wright played in all 13 games as a special teams performer in 2015. He was set to start in the secondary as a redshirt sophomore in 2016 but a preseason injury sidelined him for the Wolfpack’s first four games and he found himself in a mostly reserve role for the remainder of the season.
One of his career highlights came when he recovered a blocked punt and scored the game-winning touchdown for N.C. State in a 10-3 win against Notre Dame on Oct. 8, 2016. The game was played during Hurricane Matthew at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Wright again was slowed by injury in the 2017 season opener against South Carolina and missed the next three games. He started the last two games of the regular-season, including a 33-21 win over UNC at Carter-Finley Stadium in which he rang up, at the time, a career-high seven tackles while playing 75 snaps, also a career best.
This season Wright was just one of three Wolfpack defenders to start all 12 games. He recorded 44 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, and intercepted one pass while breaking up three more.
After the Gator Bowl, the 6-foot-3, 233-pound Wright will start working towards what he hopes is a career in the NFL.
Recently, Wright made time for a phone interview in between his end-of-semester obligations and preparation for the Gator Bowl.
What are your thoughts on playing your final game in an N.C. State uniform?
I don’t think you really take your senior day or your last game of high school as seriously as you do in college because there’s just so many things that you go through during your entire college career. I’ve been through all the ups and downs and all the highs and lows. I’ve been able to make so many great friendships and all the brothers that I have. I’ve learned so much about myself playing football that it’s just crazy that this chapter of my life is about to close and it seems like I just got here a week ago.
Were you happy with your senior season?
As far as this season, it’s been really good. Like I said, I’ve found out a lot about myself and I just had to go out there with the mindset to just have fun because it’s my senior year. I didn’t want to have any regrets. I didn’t want to go out there and worry about making a mistake. I just wanted to go out there and have fun and play with my brothers and do the best that I could and I think I was able to accomplish that this year.
As you approach your final game, what are your thoughts on your time at N.C. State?
It’s been great. Obviously the year before I got here was a really tough year for Coach (Dave) Doeren with it being his first year and them going 3-9. Just being able to see the transformation. I feel like a lot of people don’t see what goes on within the walls of the “Murph” (Wendell Murphy Football Center). From the time I stepped in there and now I’m about to walk out, I’m proud to say that I was part of his first recruiting class that really paved the way for all the other classes coming in and just continued to raise the standard for this team and for each other and just being able to help this university grow and gain a lot of respect not only in the ACC but outside the conference as well.
How was the team able to overcome the midseason stumble, losing three out of four, and finish strong?
With the great start that we had, that’s what we expected. We didn’t expect anything less. … The little rough patch that we had, the three out of four games during the stretch. …. That really tested us and I think a lot of people on the team started to look at the record as it was, I think after the Wake Forest game, and looking at three losses that we know we shouldn’t have had — maybe minus the Clemson game — but then coming back and looking at what we could accomplish this whole season. I think that’s something the coaches definitely tried to point out to us. I think we were 6-3 at the time and (the coaches) just tried to make everybody aware that we could have a great season and finish out winning the rest of the games and even winning our bowl game and still be one of the best teams in N.C. State history. I think once everybody started to get that idea, it really helped us all just come back together and realize what we were working towards.
Was it especially sweet to close out your final regular season with wins over UNC and ECU?
Especially for me being an in-state guy and that being some places that I could have potentially gone to, it felt good to have those bragging rights. Obviously, going into the offseason and being able to say that for the rest of my career, I know as far as Carolina goes, we won four out of the five games against them and not too many people can say that. For ECU, this was my first opportunity to play against them and it was great to finish out the season with a win against them as well.
What do you think are your prospects for playing in the NFL?
I’ve talked to a couple of scouts throughout the season. … From what I’ve heard, I will definitely have the opportunity to play in the NFL. As far as safety, I think everybody pretty much sees me as linebacker. I have a lot of potential there. I’ve played a little bit of linebacker in this defense since I’ve been here so it’s not going to be a hard transition for me, seeing how it’s something I’ve already done. I agree with everybody else — that linebacker will be the best fit for me so I can be as productive as everybody wants me to be and as productive as I want to be while playing.
In football, it’s the reps you need and to be able to have those live-game reps against everybody that you play against. I definitely think getting the opportunity to play a full game for an entire season, my potential will definitely show itself and I’ll be able to show everybody what I’ve always been capable of and they’ll be able to see that as well. I feel like everybody knows that I have what it takes to be a great football player and I have definitely shown that on many occasions while I’ve been here so far. It’s just a matter of being able to do it on a consistent basis in every game that I’m in.
What do you think about playing in the Gator Bowl?
Definitely looking forward to this because of the history that we have with it. I know there’s been a little talk about the last time N.C. State went down there (in the Gator Bowl) and played Notre Dame, I believe. It was a really good game (a 28-6 win for the Wolfpack on Jan. 1, 2003). So I’m a little excited about that and bring on the tradition of us winning the Gator Bowl. And also the opportunity to play against a great team. We’re playing Texas A&M and I feel like everybody knows they’re a great team, as many teams are in the SEC. So it will definitely be a great chance to showcase what we can do and just show that we can play against any level of competition.
Who are you going to miss at N.C. State?
The list can go on and on. Just to name some people off the top of my head. I know for one my roommate, Emanuel McGirt. I’ve been with him for a while. Kevin Harmon, Germaine Pratt, Steph Louis, Nick McCloud, Stephen Griffin, Jarius Morehead, Reggie Gallaspy, Isaiah Stallings. I mean, just everybody. Coach (Ted) Roof (co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach) and Coach (Aaron) Henry (secondary coach). They’ve all been a blessing to me and have had my back ever since I’ve been here. They always expected the best out of me and always believed in me. Like I said, the list could go on and on of people that I’m going to miss.