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By CHUCK JONES email@example.com
RADCLIFF — John Hardin senior halfback Michael Wright has waited patiently in the wings for his opportunity.
The two previous seasons, Wright’s path to playing time had been blocked by the likes of Matt Denham, Elias Camper, Cameron Parker and Orlando Mouncil, all key contributors in back-to-back 12-win seasons. Wright, who started at cornerback as a junior, touched the ball four times as a sophomore and 12 times last year.
“It’s been tough,” Wright said. “We’ve had good depth at running back. We’ve had Matt, Elias, Cam … I knew I’d get my time. I just had to wait.”
Even this season, Wright is considered the “other back” by most teams preparing to play the Bulldogs. He shares the same backfield with junior standout Landon Savoy, who has rushed for 1,203 yards.
“It doesn’t matter to me what they think,” Wright said. “They can call me the other back or whatever they want. I’m just going to go out and continue to do what I’ve been doing.”
Wright’s patience and determination should be commended in a day when most athletes would have rocked the boat since they weren’t getting their chance. But Wright has a passion for the game and it’s that love that drives him, not statistics.
“Michael’s a team player,” John Hardin senior quarterback Alex Dingle said. “Michael’s overlooked by most people. He’s a quiet guy who just goes out there and gets the job done. I think he likes going out there and doing something crazy and surprising people.”
Wright, who went to the Class 3-A state track meet in the long jump, might have surprised other people, but not included in that group is the John Hardin coaching staff. John Hardin coach Mark Brown was well aware of what Wright could do entering the season.
“Michael’s a good runner,” Brown said earlier this season. “He gives us great balance. They can’t just key on Landon because he’s more than capable of breaking a big play.”
Wright, who entered the year with 138 rushing yards and two touchdowns, has rushed for 934 yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing nearly three games with injuries.
Wright was instrumental in early-season victories over Meade County and North Hardin. He had 83 yards and two scores against Meade County and followed it up with 126-yard, one-touchdown performance versus the Trojans.
A nagging groin injury bothered him in the middle of the season and Wright sat out against Louisville Waggener as a precautionary measure.
In his return the next week, Wright rushed for a career-high 199 yards – the sixth-best single game in the program’s history – and one touchdown against Bullitt Central in the mud and the muck. He did it on just nine carries.
“Once Michael gets in the open field, no one is going to catch him,” Dingle said. “He’s not that shifty, but he just makes people miss.”
Two weeks later in the first round of the playoffs, Wright scored on a 49-yard run on John Hardin’s first play from scrimmage. On the team’s next possession, he hurt his knee and preliminary indications were he tore his MCL.
“I was so scared,” Wright said. “If you saw me on the sideline, I was bawling.”
Wright visited three doctors before learning the injury was just an MCL sprain. Wright sat out against Doss before returning against Oldham County where he rushed for 77 yards on eight attempts. Wright gained 84 yards and scored once on seven carries against Bowling Green.
“It was such a relief,” Wright said. “I love this game. I wanted to finish this year out. It’s my senior year. I felt like I was letting my teammates and my coaches down. I didn’t want it to end like that.
“This year has been so fun,” he added. “We’ve all been playing together since middle school. It’s just been fun. I’m having a blast.”
Wright’s fun will continue Friday night as the Bulldogs play Fort Thomas Highlands at 8 in the Class 5-A state championship game at Western Kentucky’s Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.
“After coming so close last year, there’s no better feeling than this,” Wright said. “It’s always been a childhood dream of mine to play in a state championship.”
Like always, Wright’s patience finally pays off.
Chuck Jones can be reached at 505-1759