CHARLOTTE – Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III claimed the Bronko Nagurski Trophy on Monday night, winning the Football Writers Association of America’s annual award for the top defensive player in the country.
Wright, a 6-1, 246-pound sophomore, accepted the award at the event that has been sponsored by the Charlotte Touchdown Club for 20 consecutive years. He becomes the second Arizona player to win the award after the inaugural winner Rob Waldrop in 1993 and the first Pac-12 player to claim it since Terrell Suggs of Arizona State in 2002. Wright is just the second sophomore to win the award, joining Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis, the 2006 winner.
Wright has gone from a player recruited by only a few schools – a two-star recruit on the West Coast – to a tackling machine at Arizona (10-3), ranked 10th in the final College Football Playoff rankings.
“I say thank you all to my teammates and coaches,” Wright said. “Football is a team game. I accept this on behalf of the Arizona football program.”
The modest Wright, whose real name is Phillip, was also recruited by Boise State, California, Washington and USC, but never was offered a scholarship by any of those schools. Only Arizona did.
“I am just excited for Scooby,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Mainly because he epitomizes what are program is about. He has a chip on his shoulder. He loves the game and is a good teammate.”
The four other Nagurski finalists in attendance were Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown, Alabama safety Landon Collins, Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson and Louisville safety Gerod Holliman. Alabama head coach Nick Saban gave the evening’s keynote address.
Lineman Randy White, accepted the Bronko Nagurski Legends Award, presented by Florida East Coast Railway. Each year, the FWAA honors a past winner from one its All-America teams. White, a defensive star at Maryland before becoming an All-Pro for the Dallas Cowboys, was a member of the 1974 FWAA All-America Team.
The 2014 Nagurski winner, Wright, ranks in the top five among FBS players for total tackles (153), tackles for loss (28.0), sacks (14.0) and forced fumbles (six). He’s the only FBS player to rank in the top 25 of each of those categories this season.
“One of the reasons his numbers are so high for tackles, assists or turnovers is because of his effort,” Rodriguez said. “He strains until the nth degree. You want everybody to do that. But it comes to Scooby naturally. He plays with a sense of urgency on every snap.”
Wright is trying to become the first player since 1999 to be ranked in the top five for tackles, tackles for loss and sacks at the end of a season. When current Arizona coach Rodriguez was offensive coordinator at Clemson in 1999, linebacker Keith Adams achieved the feat for the Tigers, according to research provided by STATS. Adams finished second in total tackles (186), first in tackles for loss (35.0), and tied for third in sacks (16.0).
Wright, who hails from Windsor, Calif., anchored an Arizona defense that helped capture the school’s first Pac-12 South Division title. For the Wildcats, who are headed to the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl to play Boise State and have posted 10 victories in a season for the first time since 1998, Wright led the Pac-12 in five defensive statistical categories: Total tackles (153), tackles per game (11.77), tackles for loss (28), tackles for loss per game (2.15) and forced fumbles (6).
The FWAA’s national defensive player of the year award, given out since 1993, is named after the legendary Bronko Nagurski, who dominated college football at Minnesota as a bruising fullback and defensive tackle from 1927 through 1929. He could have been an All-American at any position and was the best player wherever the coaches put him.
Nagurski led Minnesota to the Big Ten title in 1927 and a three-year record of 18-4-2. He went on to lead the fabled Chicago Bears to three NFL titles. During one game at Wrigley Field, he once broke a defensive player’s shoulder, knocked another out and ran into a brick wall and actually cracked it during a game-winning touchdown run.