September 1, 2010 10:00:00 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Some players might take 100 percent for granted.
But it''s easy to believe nothing can go wrong when you never have suffered a serious injury.
Jackson State players Javarius Conner and Andre'' Wright plan to show people this season what they can do when they finally are fully recovered. They might not be there yet, but the former Noxubee County High School standouts intend to make a statement at some point this season.
Their first chance will come at 4 p.m. Saturday when Jackson State kicks off its season against Delta State. JSU is coming off a 3-7 season in which its defense allowed a respectable 259.9 yards and 18.9 points per game. The only problem was the offense averaged only 13.9 ppg.
Conner and Wright will do their best to make sure the defense lowers its numbers and helps put the team in position to have a better season.
"They''re tough," Jackson State defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Darrin Hayes said. "One thing you can''t teach as a college football coach is toughness, and both of those young men have it. They are tough as nails. You can''t have too many tough guys."
Both players have used their toughness to come back from injuries. Conner, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end, tore his Achilles'' tendon early in the preseason last year. He said he missed the first few games of the year and never made it back to 100 percent. He ended up playing in four games and making two solo tackles (three total).
The injury was the first major setback Conner experienced as a football player, and he acknowledged it was tough dealing with it. He said he has worked hard to put himself in position to be at 100 percent and to compete for playing time up front.
"I can''t let the injury hold me back," said Conner, a 2008 graduate of Noxubee County High School. "I feel good. I worked on my speed so I wouldn''t get too big so I couldn''t move."
Conner feels he will be able to contribute this season as a speed rusher off the end. He said he has improved his strength, which has helped his technique in getting off the ball and getting off blocks. He said he has progressed from a three on a scale of one to five to a four or five, but that he never will be satisfied.
"I am going to work," Conner said when asked how much playing time he feels he will earn this season. "I am going to get it."
Wright, a 6-foot, 200-pound junior defensive back, also played in four games last season, making three solo tackles (nine total). Like Conner, he also saw playing time on special teams and, like Conner again, he plans to play a bigger role this season.
To accomplish that goal, Wright will have to work all of the way back from shoulder surgery he had last spring to repair torn cartilage in his rotator cuff. This past spring, he suffered an ankle injury that slowed his progression to 100 percent in the preseason.
Now that the season is a few days away, Wright is ready to prove he deserves a spot in the lineup.
"I feel I am not going to let anybody stand in my way," Wright said. "I feel I should be stepping up to be a starter, and I am expecting nothing less than that."
That drive made it difficult for Wright to relax and allow his ankle to heal. He said the summer ended on a good streak and he almost had his body where he wanted it to be entering the start of training camp.
As someone who considers himself a "technician of the game," Wright is excited to get a chance to show he is completely back. He said he has studied hours of tape on the JSU defense to make sure he knows the responsibilities of all of his teammates. He feels he might see the most playing time at safety this season.
Conner feels Wright is in line to have an exceptional season.
"I see pretty good things for him," Conner said. "I know he is coming off an injury, and I know he put the work in to get back out there."
Hayes also likes the skill set Wright brings to the secondary. He said Wright''s versatility allows him to play cornerback or safety.
Wright also believes Conner is in position to play key minutes this season. He said he has played with him since their youth football days and he knows Conner''s work ethic will push him through the toughest challenge.
"I feel like he will have a great season," Wright said.
Hayes'' opinion matters the most. He said both players have the ability to earn starting spots if they stay healthy. Not only are they top-notch athletes, but he also said they are fine young men who are assets to the program.
"They are big, strong, tough, and smart guys," Hayes said. "They do a pretty good job of doing what we ask them to do. We have never had a problem with them. They are great guys and great students first and second of all, and they also are good football players."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.