Jayhawks signed three '82 Lions, but not Wright
Everybody loves a Cinderella story in sports, even if this Cinderella resembles a dainty princess about as much as Moby Dick does a tropical fish.
Jeff Wright stands 6-2 and weighs 270 pounds. He plays nose guard for the Buffalo Bills and, while he may not be an all-pro, he is nevertheless recognized as one of the NFL's best at his position.
Not bad for an eighth-round draft choice out of Central Missouri State, or for a former Lawrence High football player who was overlooked by the major university in his hometown.
You've probably heard the Wright saga before how he eventually signed with Tulsa, was red-shirted, worked for a year as a construction laborer, enrolled at Coffeyville CC and then went on to Central Missouri State but I thought I'd dig a little deeper.
FOR INSTANCE, I wondered if Kansas had signed any players out of Lawrence High the year Wright was a senior. Sure enough, KU inked three Lions from the Class of '82 fullback Mark Henderson, linebacker Dane Griffin and running back Jan Demby.
"He was in that class?" Lawrence High football coach Dick Purdy responded when I mentioned those names.
Purdy wasn't the Lions' head coach 10 years ago, but he was familiar with Henderson, Griffin and Demby because he was KU's recruiting co-ordinator under Don Fambrough at the time.
Purdy told me he couldn't recall the circumstances of Wright's non-recruitment, referring me instead to John Hadl, then the KU assistant coach whose territory included Lawrence High.
Hadl, now director of KU's Williams Fund, was candid. Kansas blew it.
"Obviously, it was a mistake," Hadl told me. "The only thing I remember is he wasn't anywhere near what he is now physically. He was tough and all those things. He just didn't look the part."
HIGH SCHOOL players who stand 6-2 and weigh about 205 pounds, as Wright did then, do not project as linemen, and Wright played both offensive and defensive tackle for the Lions.
"He sure is a great player," added Hadl, a long-time NFL player himself. "That's why you need to take Kansas kids. You need to take a chance on them instead of a guy from Hong Kong."
It's unlikely Kansas would have given scholarships to Henderson, Griffin or Demby if they'd been from Hong Kong. Henderson and Griffin had average careers with the Jayhawks each earned three letters while Demby went to a junior college and never donned a Kansas uniform.
Why wouldn't they have taken a chance on Wright, too? Two reasons perception and projection.
"He was skinny and tall," recalled former LHS assistant coach Ben Boydston. "He was much taller than he was wide. Now he's much wider than he is tall."
Henderson, who now works from Screen-It Graphics here, also remembers Wright as a beanpole.
"YEAH, HE WAS always pretty slender," Henderson told me. "But he was starting to put on quite a bit of size. We used to do a lot of weight training before and after school. He was an incredibly hard worker in the weight room. . .which he's obviously continued."