Within seconds and without warning, dark clouds moved in and a huge thunderstorm hammered Houston with a sudden downpour Lance Wright of North Pole had never seen. It doesn’t rain in Alaska like it does in Texas.
“The weather is weird here,” he told me. “It’ll be 100 degrees and super humid, and five minutes later a huge thunderstorm is on top of you. Ten minutes after that it’s back to sunny and hot again. It’s so different.”
The football is different as well.
The former Alaska high school all-state receiver is getting a front-row view of just how different football is in Texas as a freshman scholarship player at Rice University. The Owls are defending champions of Conference USA and boast a roster full of players from the football-rich state of Texas.
Wright was Rice’s only signee in his class outside of Texas and is the school’s first football recruit from Alaska.
At North Pole, the 6-foot-3, 185-pounder caught 29 passes for 605 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior. For his career he hauled in 90-1,873-26 totals.
“You can see my highlight tape. I can pretty much do whatever I want out there,” Wright said.
Now he’s one of the few Alaskans playing NCAA football at a Division I college.
The jump from North Pole to Texas has been surreal.
“They’ve got guys 300 pounds running a 4.7,” he said. “That’s something I didn’t even think was possible.”
Wright used to be on the field with kids that watched Monday Night Football. Now he is surrounded by guys trying to play on Monday Night Football.
“It’s very serious,” Wright said. “I’m up at 5 a.m., in bed at 10 p.m. I think this is our eighth day, I don’t even know, the days are running together. We’ve gone over so many plays and formations, routes adjusted for coverages that change during the play. All day meetings, working out, eating … it’s a lot different, but I’m glad I’m here.”
At his first team meeting, the coaches gave him a copy of the team’s playbook.
“It’s bigger than my textbooks,” Wright said. “It’s way more complex than high school, and I was fortunate to play in a spread offense in high school, but it was nothing like this. That first meeting we were going over this stuff I was like, how I’m I going to remember all of this? Now I’ve a better handle on it. It’s going to take time and once I get healthy and take some reps, the reps will help a lot.”
Wright, 18, is nursing a hamstring injury that has kept him off the field and on the sidelines, a point of frustration for any competitor. You know it’s killing the Alaskan to be on the field with the big boys. He has a lot to prove.
In reality, he’s already accomplished so much by earning a football scholarship from Rice.
“Growing up in Alaska, it’s like anywhere else, but North Pole is rough. It’s not like a ghetto or a hood, but it’s still a rough place. You don’t have the same opportunities as other places,” Wright said. “It made me feel good how proud my family was, even my extended family, when I committed to Rice.
“I want to be that story of that kid out of North Pole that made his dreams come true. So far I’ve done that, although when I got here it was like, alright time to set some new goals.”
Wright had lots of help to be able to play college football at the highest level.
“If I had gone to any other high school in Alaska I doubt I would have ended up here. My coaches they helped since I was a little kid, they knew my goals and what I wanted to accomplish and they did everything they could to make that happen,” he said. “My parents, they are amazing. They knew I wanted to get a scholarship, so they always sent me to camps and I could never repay them for what they did, but I know they are proud of me and that’s good enough for now.”