WOLFVILLE, NS - Dale Wright has proven he’s a force to be reckoned with on the football field.
This year’s Athenaeum Male Athlete of the Year at Acadia, the Markham, Ontario native has come a long way. Born in Jamaica and raised in Ontario, Wright took up football only a few years ago, when he was in Grade 9, but has fallen in love with the sport that earned him top honours at the recent Fred G. Kelly Awards Banquet.
“I used to play soccer, but I got a lot of red cards when I was in elementary, going into high school. I decided to switch to a more physical sport where I could still use my speed and abilities on the field,” he says. “I haven’t looked back since.”
It’s taught him a lot of life lessons, he says, and left him “addicted to the game.”
“It teaches you how to continuously learn and be disciplined on a daily basis,” he says.
Wright came to Acadia in fall 2015 but only played one game in his rookie season. He had high hopes of showcasing his skills on the field in 2016 when everything went off the rails in the first pre-season game.
“I broke my wrist in the pre-season, in the very first game, so that kind of messed up everything,” he says.
The injury sidelined him for the season and forced him to watch from the sidelines in street clothes as his teammates struggled through the regular season with a 2-6 record.
It took a lot of intense work to get back in fighting form after missing the year. Wright spent the summer in Wolfville, working intensely with strength coach Elliott Richardson and the other professionals at Acadia’s training centre.
“Those guys really helped and played a big role in getting me strong,” he said.
It paid off. Big time.
In a reversal from the previous year, Acadia went 6-2 in the regular season in 2017.
Wright is modest. “I think a big part of it was the leadership group we had,” he says, and is quick to sing the praises of his teammates on the field.
“Ever since training camp the team got a lot closer and we just tried to maintain that closeness, stay open on a social level and work hard as a team,” Wright says. “I think that’s what helped us get to the Loney Bowl.”
But his individual contributions can’t be overlooked. It started off a little slow – in his first three games, he accumulated just 217 yards – but Wright kicked it into high gear as the season progressed to lead the AUS conference and finish third in the country with 1,030 rushing yards.
It’s a stat to be proud of; Wright became only the second Axemen in the school’s history to rush more than 1,000 yards. The only other Acadia player to achieve that was Brian Walling in 1986, who posted 92 more yards for a total of 1,122.
It was a year of standout performances for Wright, who also led the Atlantic conference in rushing touchdowns – he had six – and was second in total carries with 161.
His efforts saw the accolades start to mount during the season, first earning him the AUS football offensive player of the week honours and later the conference outstanding player of the year award – the first time the honour has come to an Acadia athlete since 2014, when Brian Jones took home the award - as well as the football MVP award for Acadia, which was handed out during the April 2 banquet.
And Wright didn’t expect any of it.
“It’s a great honour because guys like Brian Walling won one of the awards I received. I didn’t really think I was going to win anything that night – it meant a lot,” he says.
Wright also prides himself on supporting his fellow athletes.
“I just try to bring a relaxed feel to the team, just to try and help support them and not make it as intense. I know some of the young guys get nervous; it’s nice to be able to get them loosen up. You do play a lot better when you’re relaxed,” he said. “I just try to do that and take on a leadership role with the team.”
In the end, Acadia went 6-2 during the regular season and made it all the way to the Uteck Bowl against the unbeaten Western Mustangs before dreams of a national championship were dashed.
Wright, frustratingly, missed out on playing against Western after a lower-body injury during the first quarter of the Loney Bowl left him sidelined.
“I didn’t get much of a chance to play in that game – I played about a quarter, but I got hurt,” he said. “It was disappointing, especially when you’re feeling that your body is pretty fresh after the long break we had. I was disappointed but I bounced back pretty fast.”
It’s only left him more determined to come back with a vengeance next fall.
“That Western game wasn’t a good representation of the team,” he says. “We’ll be looking to do better next year. We’re a lot hungrier this upcoming season.”
His injuries from his first two years at Acadia mean that Wright has only used up one year of eligibility, and he’s determined to punch all of his remaining time with the Axemen.
“A goal of mine is to keep consistent, keep performing, do what I’ve been doing on a daily basis,” he said. “The weeks will go by and hopefully, by the end of the year, I’ll finish like I did last year – or maybe even better.”
And he believes Acadia stands a great shot at going the distance this fall. When the season wraps up, that doesn’t mean Acadia’s football team takes it easy – rather, that’s when training kicks into high gear.
“Since the start of the off-season we’ve been training pretty intensely. There are morning runs and lots of stuff in the weight room,” he says. “This summer, we’re going to be looking at more of a speed thing.”
Eyeing the future
Wright is hoping he’ll be able to take the training he’s been doing during the off-season and turn it into wins. And Walling had better watch out – Wright is more determined than ever to smash the current record.
“That’s where my goals are next year, to increase my speed are and my endurance,” he says. “I want to be able to take on the work load and last longer.”
With a strong core of returning athletes coming back this fall, Wright feels confident he’ll have the team next to him to make some football magic happen.
“We’ll still have a lot of our core guys and this off-season has been big for our young guys coming in, like Glodin Mulali and guys like that, who are continuing to work hard,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to compete and win an AUS next year. We want to be able to compete at a higher level with the other conferences.”
But, he’s also eyeing the future. An accounting student who was attracted to Acadia initially because of the small class sizes and the co-op program – plus Acadia’s strong football history - he plans to become a chartered personal accountant designation eventually.
He also dreams of continuing his football career.
“I want to take football to the next level, either down south or within Canada,” he said. “That’s the goal.”