HHS’ Wright signs with Tennessee
HUNTINGTON — Huntington High’s Darnell Wright can finally stop answering questions about his recruitment.
On Wednesday, Wright -- a five-star prospect who was ranked as the No. 2 offensive tackle in the Class of 2019 -- made his announcement for the college football world in a live nationally-broadcast signing ceremony at the high school.
The top-ranked unsigned Class of 2019 lineman prospect decided to stay with his instincts and his comfort level, signing a National Letter of Intent with the University of Tennessee.
Wright chose to stay true to the Volunteers -- a team that was there since the beginning of his recruitment -- over a late push from new West Virginia coach Neal Brown. Alabama, North Carolina and Clemson were also in Wright’s top five schools.
“I feel like it’s the best choice for me,” Wright said. “It’s a stable coaching staff and I’ve got to know them personally on more than a football level. I think it’s a good fit.”
In the end, the personal knowledge of the coaching staff at Tennessee won over Wright, who said they took on a different feel from others he spoke to.
“One of the big things was that (assistant) coach Brian Niedermayer and all the coaches were more than coaches for me,” Wright said. “They were someone I could talk to. At first, I looked at it as a business decision, as you look at every school. I have a chance to come in and play early, if I take care of what I need to do. I looked at the school’s history academically and there was nothing that I couldn’t do academic-wise. A lot of the boxes that I needed checked off were all checked off.”
Huntington High coach Billy Seals said the personal feel Tennessee gave Wright spoke volumes about their commitment to him as a player and person.
“Darnell is a big relationship guy,” Seals said. “I think that they did a really nice job of building a relationship with Darnell outside of football. That was very important to him.”
Wright said he pretty well had his mind made up several weeks ago because he did not feel anyone else would give him the personal feel Tennessee’s staff would.
“I’d say about three or four weeks back,” Wright said of his timeline. “I just felt that there wasn’t a place that would change my mind. As time went on, I’ve made a lot of progress with the school. I didn’t feel like anyone else could just come in and be what they were for me.”
Even thought he didn’t make it known, Wright’s commitment to the Volunteers became solidified last weekend when he made a visit to Knoxville, Tennessee, to continue building relationships with the players, as well as head coach Jeremy Pruitt, Niedermayer and the other coaches.
The 6-foot-6, 320-pound lineman said the decision was solid before Brown became coach at West Virginia, but Wright didn’t hesitate to mention the respect level he has for Brown and the new staff with the Mountaineers after their efforts in the final weeks of the recruiting season.
Last week, Brown brought every member of his staff to Huntington to meet with Wright in an attempt to keep one of the nation’s top prospects in the Mountain State.
Brown was able to get Wright to Morgantown for a visit and Wright said everything about the coaches and program were positive, but at the end of the day, he felt more comfortable going with a staff that he had known throughout the recruiting process over those whom he’d known less than a month.
“When WVU came into the mix, I was like, ‘Hmmm,’ because, honestly, they hadn’t been in the mix before,” Wright said. “I really liked the O-line coach (Matt Moore), too. I just really didn’t know them. I hadn’t had a chance to know them on that level.”
With his signing, Wright will join another Tri-State product -- former Spring Valley High School lineman Riley Locklear -- up front for the Volunteers.
Now that the cameras are off and the questions pertaining to where he will sign are finished, Wright’s focus is on improving his all-around game before reporting to Knoxville in June.
“I know what I need to do and what I need to work on,” Wright said. “I need to work on everything. I can’t single anything out and say, ‘I need to work on my kick-step’ or anything like that. Everything needs to improve and I know, for one, I need to get stronger.
“Now, it’s finally going to be like, ‘Alright, I’m done with that’ and I can get back to playing football.”