By: Monty Mosher
If you didn't know the name Dale Wright when the new university football season began it would be a forgivable oversight.
Wright's first two seasons with the Acadia Axemen were slowed by injury. When he got on the field, he couldn't get much going.
In fact, the running back from Markham, Ont., now in his third year with the Axemen had minus-one yards of rushing offence in those dismaying two years.
But Wright, 21, is no quitter. He got overlooked by most coming out of high school, partly because he was a bit on the small side at five-foot-eight and partly because he took a year after graduation to find some work.
A little patience and persistence, combined with some inner confidence, allowed Wright to dream big. He delivered on all of his promise during the 2017 regular season, racing for 1,030 yards on the ground and becoming the first Axemen since Brian Walling in 1986 to top 1,000 yards on the ground.
In the last five games of the regular season, he galloped for 146, 129, 188, 193 and 157 yards as Acadia went 4-1 to capture first place.
"I was hurt for most of my first two seasons, so coming into my third year I just wanted to contribute to the team as much as I could in any way that I could," Wright said in an interview this week. "My main goal I set out for myself was to play every single game."
He wasn't frustrated as a rookie coming out of Brother Andre Secondary School. He had some injuries, but he might not have played that much anyway with other players in front of him on the depth chart.
But he was already to make an impact as a sophomore when he broke his wrist in pre-season and didn't get on the field in the regular season.
It took forever for the 2017 season to come around. He knew there was something more within the Axemen than the standings had shown in the last couple seasons.
He trained to take on any workload the Axemen offered. He's powerful at 200 pounds.
"I've always had the confidence with the group of guys we have," said Wright, a business student.
Wright's name wasn't on the tip of anyone's tongue when training camps opened. The Axemen didn't have anyone run for 200 yards total in the 2016 regular season and Acadia has often been a pass-first offence.
But with Wright running well, and the offensive line healthy for the first time in a while, the Axemen ran more often than any team in the AUS. Wright's 128.8 rushing yards per game ranked No. 3 in U Sports.
He thought the entire Axemen program was primed for a big year.
"I definitely sensed that through the off-season, just the mentality of the players. We were all willing to work hard. It was like that before, too, but I feel like now we are more of a unit."
Axemen coach Jeff Cummins said Wright is a complete student and athlete.
"Dale is a treat … he is a very hard worker, humble and gracious," Cummins said. "He is not fibbing when he said he was very frustrated with his injuries over the last year or two, but has persevered through it.
"He fights through some minor injuries each week as a running back and actually had the flu before our last game against Saint Mary's and didn't practice all week except Friday walk-through, then proceeded to run for 157 yards to get over 1,000."
He's been able to improve with the help of position coaches Zack Clarke, Tyler Honeywood and Kyle Graves, all former Acadia players.
"He takes care of himself with his diet, his training, and in class he carries a 3.42 cumulative GPA in business," Cummins said. "I am very happy for Dale, and proud to be his coach, as he embodies all the attributes we want in our Acadia football team. We are very lucky to have him and I think he is very lucky to be in this environment here at Acadia."
Wright was born in Jamaica in a household where soccer was the passion. When his family came to Canada, he continued on as a soccer striker good enough to get some time with the Ontario provincial program.
"I switched to football as soon as Grade 9 came because I got a lot of red cards. I figure I'd switch to a more physical sport."
He was a running back from the first day. He didn't know much about football, or the position, but he trusted his coaches. They were on to something.
Running for 1,000 yards in AUS football doesn't happen every year. It's a relatively short list – Eric Lapointe, Luis Perez, Grant Keaney, Walling, Paul Brule, Paul Carty, Sean Mongey, Jordan Socholotiuk and Jacques Lumbala.
Socholotiuk went over 1,000 yards in 2016, making him the first on the honour roll since Lumbala in 2007.
"I definitely thought about it, before the season for sure," said Wright. "It happening is pretty surreal. But I've just got to try to focus up on the next game."