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There have been high hopes and expectations. There have been ups and downs.
In many ways the personal and collective journey mirrors each other. Dexter Wright and North Carolina State have been through a lot. Now there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The former star at Hunt High School has been forced to work his way through injury and demotion this season with the Wolfpack but he answered the bell Saturday.
The redshirt junior safety finished with seven tackles and one pass breakup in N.C. State’s 33-21 win over North Carolina in the final game of the regular season Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.
It was a grand finale for Wright. After opening the season as a starter, he suffered a groin injury in the season opener in Charlotte versus South Carolina and missed the next five games.
After he was deemed fit to play, Wright had to earn his way back on the field. Tim Kidd-Glass had won the starting safety job and was getting most of the reps.
When the Wolfpack lost at Wake Forest in the penultimate game of the regular season, Wright did not play.
The 2014 Wilson Times Athlete of the Year was undeterred and pressed on. He is comfortable where he is and knows that the experience will make him better in the long run.
“I can’t complain about the journey at all,” Wright said. “I have learned so much since the first day I have stepped on campus, about the game of football and about life itself. Everything has happened for a reason. When I decided to come here I made the right decision.”
N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren wants more on the field from the redshirt junior but is impressed with how he has handled adversity.
“He’s been positive,” Doeren said. “He hasn’t played as well as we hoped he would or he hoped he would and that’s something we have to get out of him. He’s stayed positive.”
While it has not been easy, Wright is happy with where he is in life. One of the attributes about N.C. State that is most appealing to him is its location.
Living in Raleigh provides Wright some freedom and space but it is close enough to Wilson that he is not so far away in time of trouble or when he simply needs a respite from college life.
Wright likes it that way because, regardless of where life takes him, Wilson will always be home. He actually lived in Greenville with his parents, Anita and Randy Wright, but went to school in Wilson from the time he started kindergarten. His mother, now retired, was a teacher and then a principal for Wilson County Schools and Dexter simply came along with her.
“Wilson is really where my heart is,” said Wright. “Having spent all my life there, going to school there and growing up there and finishing off at Hunt, I am definitely always going be a part of Wilson. I feel like Wilson just has so many things that represents me as a person as well so it will always be dear in my heart.
“It is always helpful. If my family needs something there I have time to get there. I can easily make that trip so, while there is definitely a gap there, it is not too far away and not too close. It is really convenient, especially with Raleigh being the central point of everything.”
Football is not the only point of emphasis in his life. Wright also came to N.C. State to become a college graduate.
It is a desire that came from his upbringing. Wright, whose father is a retired Greenville advanced police officer, has experience trying to earn his way on the field prior to getting to Raleigh.
“Growing up, my parents always focused on education,” Wright recalled. “In middle school they took me off of the football team because I had a couple of C’s on a progress report. I couldn’t play basketball my freshman year because I had some C’s so obviously they have always stressed education and especially now because they know how impactful an education from N.C. State will be.
“They have continued to drive that and tell me how important it will be once my football career is over. The coaches have done that as well. It will mean everything to graduate college.”
College is designed to prepare students for the life beyond. There will be good moments and bad ones.
The path Wright took to navigate through the 2017 campaign was a struggle but it will have its purpose and is educational in context. He does not regret it.
“Everything is a process,” Wright said. “The way I see it, everybody’s road to success is not the same. I have had my ups and downs. I started and then didn’t start but I just continue to trust the process and know that what is meant to be is meant to be. I am still out here grinding and trying to get that starting spot to have an impact on this team.”
PREPARING FOR PENN STATE
Kevin Keatts met with the media Tuesday and was philosophical about N.C. State dropping its final two games in the Bahamas after a stunning win over then-second ranked Arizona.
The Wolfpack closed out the Battle-4-Atlantis with losses to Northern Iowa and Tennessee.
“It was a great experience for us when you think about the Arizona game,” the first-year head coach said. “You talk about a new staff and a new group of players early in the season, I thought our guys were really good on both sides of the floor.
“When you look at both the Northern Iowa and the Tennessee games, I consider both of those games to be possession-games. I thought in the Northern Iowa game we missed a lot of shots that we normally would make, obviously behind the 3-point line. Then in the Tennessee game I thought we left a lot of free throws on the rim. I thought both of those games were winnable games for us.”
Looking ahead to Tuesday’s game against Penn State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Wolfpack will have to deal with an experienced unit that can perform inside..
“The thing that makes this team so dangerous is they have got a lot of guys who played last year and they have a lot of returners,” Keatts said. “They play with toughness. They are really good around the basket. They don’t take a lot of 3s. It is a team that can score in the paint.”