SPRING HILL — As the game got underway Friday night at Booster Stadium between Springstead and Gainesville, the thoughts of what happened exactly one week prior plagued Daniel Wright.
The Eagles running back received a helmet to the knee in the first half against Citrus, and was carried off the field and put into an ambulance.
“There was so much running through my head (when I was laying on the field),” he said. “I was a little worried, but when they told me everything was fine, I iced it every day. There was no way I wasn’t playing (Friday night).”
No one could have foreseen the performance he would have in Springstead’s first region semifinal victory in school history. With 27 carries for 159 yards, a 22-yard catch, and two touchdowns, Wright found himself as the centerpiece of the Eagle offense in the biggest game the program has ever played.
“(His performance) was a huge lift for us,” coach Mike Garofano said. “(He’s) the focal point of our offense. We’re 13 weeks in, and he takes a beating every week.”
Last weekend was difficult for the senior. After consulting with doctors and finding out there was no structural damage to the knee, Wright still had to deal with extreme swelling and the lack of flexibility that came with it.
Coaches held him out of practice Monday, and because Thursday is more of a walk-through day, his only full day of practice came Wednesday. Offensive coordinator Dustin Kupcik had to give reps to a flurry of other players in the backfield as a contingency.
“As soon as I saw the hit with the reaction from the medical crew, I had to assume he was done and we were looking at the next man up,” Kupcik said. “We took it slow and steady (in practice), and after that, I was not concerned about how he’d play.”
On Springstead’s opening drive, he ran over would-be tacklers on his way to a season-long 57-yard carry, setting up the Eagles’ first touchdown, a 20-yard pass from Tyler Mahla to Joe Jeffords.
“(Wright’s long run) lifted his confidence and the team’s,” Garofano said. “The offensive line did a great job of executing and (Kupcik) handled the play-calling very well.”
Everything built from there as he broke tackle after tackle. With the score only 14-7 on fourth and 16 just outside of the red zone, Wright caught the 22-yard touchdown from Mahla to seal the win.
At only 165 pounds, Wright’s persona as the type of back who gains 5 yards and a cloud of dust wasn’t immediate. It was the influence of former Springstead coach Bill Vonada that taught him to keep his feet moving and run through people instead always trying to cut.
“I was very elusive when I played pee-wee league,” said Wright, who has 1,103 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.
“But the one who taught me about running hard was Vonada. I love running through a guy and hearing the crowd’s ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ because it gets me pumped up.”