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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Hard-hitting safety turns heads with recent performance

UF free safety Major Wright isn't ashamed to admit he feels butterflies before every game.

So one can only imagine what Wright's stomach was doing Saturday when UF safeties coach John "Doc" Holliday approached him minutes before kickoff and told him he would start against Auburn.

"I was kind of shocked," Wright said. "I went out there and just stayed focused."

Although the freshman had already seen plenty of playing time at free safety, Saturday's game was the first time he replaced senior Kyle Jackson as the starter.

Wright tied linebacker Dustin Doe and strong safety Tony Joiner for the second most tackles against Auburn. His efforts fell just three shy of leader Brandon Spikes' 10.

UF coach Urban Meyer was impressed with Wright's performance, particularly a momentum-changing play he made in the third quarter.

Wright clobbered Auburn's Ben Tate as he rushed up the middle, and his helmet connected with the football, forcing the tailback to fumble. The Gators recovered.

The play - Wright's second forced fumble of the season - set up UF's first touchdown drive and brought the Gators within one score of tying the Tigers.

"That was a huge play because we needed that turnover at the time, and he came up with a big hit," Joiner said Monday, prior to his arrest on burglary charges. "Those are things that you remember Reggie Nelson doing. That was a nice play."

Although he is only a freshman, Wright has already shown serious potential.

"Our defense coaches are very excited about him," Meyer said. "He's like a lot of young players. That was his first start, but he still has to have a good week of practice to get another start. He can be an excellent player, but he can still improve."

UF isn't the only coaching staff that took notice of Wright's performance.

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During his Monday teleconference, LSU coach Les Miles said he was impressed with the Gators' fast and stingy defense. He singled out Wright.

"A number of guys there, too many to mention. One that stands out to me is their freshman safety, No. 21," Miles said. "Just played extremely well against Auburn."

Wright could have a more difficult time this week should strong safety Joiner fail to suit up beside him.

Meyer is waiting for the legal issues surrounding Joiner's arrest to sort out before he decides if the senior will play against the Tigers.

Without Joiner, Wright would be left in the secondary with sophomore Dorian Munroe, who proved to be an able substitute when Joiner sat out the Southeastern Conference Championship Game last season with an injury.

But the switch could still be a radical change without Joiner's leadership, which has been a blessing for the freshman on the field.

"Looking up to Tony, he helps me out with anything," Wright said. "He knows the free safety spot just as well as he knows the strong safety spot."

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