SPRING HILL — Even with his below-average size (5-11) for the position, Springstead High fullback Daniel Wright hammers holes in between the tackles.
It was a style of running — perhaps made famous by Pittsburgh Steelers legend Jerome Bettis — that took him some time to embrace, but now he is on pace to become the best power back in school history.
With 1,893 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns over the past two seasons, the rising senior is crucial to the 2014 Springstead offense. His role is also bolstered by the fact the Eagles will return with only 72 total yards of rushing among four other players (Jake Lewandowski, Brian Rae, T.J. Owens, and Robert Holdway) at the varsity level next fall.
Former junior varsity starter Victor Koerick is expected to slip into the spot under center after three-year starting quarterback Tyler Mahla graduates, putting even more emphasis on the hard-nosed ground attack led by Wright.
"Dan is always working hard, always looking to improve," Springstead offensive coordinator Dustin Kupcik said. "He spends a lot of time in the weight room."
If Wright's previous evidence of drive and determination are any indication, he could be on pace for a breakout 2014.
Last season, Wright was hospitalized after severely bruising his knee in the first half of a 21-6 region quarterfinal victory over Citrus. The pain and swelling were so bad he could not practice and was likely to miss the second-round contest against Gainesville. The Eagles (11-2) had never advanced further than that round in previous years.
Wright was not deterred, icing the injury all week, refusing to sit out. Not only did he suit up, he finished with 27 carries for 159 yards, a 22-yard catch and two touchdowns. He was the nucleus of the offense in the biggest game the program had ever played.
"(Wright's performance) was a huge lift for us," Springstead coach Mike Garofano said after the win. "He's the focal point of our offense, and he takes a beating every week."
At the beginning of last season, the fullback came in at only 5-9, 157 pounds. He continued a stringent workout program throughout the year and gained almost 10 pounds of muscle before season's end.
With an entire summer still in front of him, Wright is up to 181 pounds. He has gained an understanding since his sophomore season that his battering style will not only deliver him more success but open up options for his teammates.
"The extra size is going to help me become a better football player," Wright said. "I have more muscle and can run through more tackles. It's all about running downhill and getting yards."
When he ran for 246 yards on 32 carries against Weeki Wachee, it is believed he broke the school's single-game record. The only thing Wright remembers, however, is one mistake he made.
"I need to improve my ball security," he said. "I was pretty upset about that fumble I had against Weeki Wachee last year. It was the first one my career."
He was right. After zero fumbles as a sophomore, Wright laid the ball down three times as a junior. But he had 72 more carries and was working through injuries at times. That doesn't matter to Wright, who puts pressure on himself to carry the load for the Eagles.
He is tailor-made for goal-line use and has made the most of it. With 10 touchdowns last season and another 10 the year before, he is already the first player in Springstead history to score double figures in back-to-back years. He has an opportunity to push that mark to three straight seasons.
The primary ball carrier in the Eagle option offense next to Wright is still undecided, though coaches like the progress of rising junior Dillan Hatfield during spring practice. Regardless of who lines up with Wright, he should be the focus of every defensive game plan.
"With Tyler leaving and us losing all the good backs we had, I know I'll be the one that other teams are trying to stop," Wright said. "I've been working all spring because I want to be ready for that. I have to do everything in my power to gain those yards."