Large Schools Offensive Player of the Year: Dante Wright, Navarre
NAVARRE — It was a run-of-the-mill stat line for Dante Wright.
Seven carries for 85 yards and 39-yard touchdown out of the Wildcat formation.
A 66-yard pick-six as part of eight tackles.
A 7-yard touchdown reception.
Two kickoff returns for 83 yards to go along with a 35-yard punt return.
Eighteen touches. 277 yards. Three scores.
That Nov. 3 night, Navarre cruising to a 42-20 win over Niceville, Wright was the best player on the gridiron.
For anybody else, this was a career night. For the 5-foot-9, 155-pound junior, it was business as usual.
On hand to witness Wright's versatility was his former teammate, University of North Carolina running back Michael Carter. But before the 2016 Navarre alumnus departed back for Chapel Hill, he put in his two cents to the Player of the Year argument.
.@DanteWright8 straight filthy. Broke dude’s ankle, took wildcat 39 yards to house. Think I’m staring at our Offensive POY. -- @SethSnwfdn
Carter's response? Smart Guy.
Carter would know. After all, he's the reigning Daily News Large Schools Offensive Player of the Year.
"It means a lot to have his support," Wright said.
Last year, Carter put up a school-record 2,536 rushing yards, 239 all-purpose yards per game and 45 touchdowns. When he left, a Tar Heel state-sized void was left in Navarre's offense.
Enter Wright, who was coming off a sensational sophomore season where he delivered 1,191 all-purpose yards and 12 touchdowns.
Twenty-eight touchdowns and 2,241 all-purpose yards (204 per game) later, Wright is our Large Schools Offensive Player of the Year.
"I feel honored to have such a title on my name," Wright said. "There's some big names in the area, some big names that have won this in the past."
Head coach Jay Walls has offered up POY sound bites for Jay Warren, Carter, Josh Carter and Xavier Fernandez. But never before has he seen a Navarre star this versatile, this fast.
"The thing about Dante is, you could use him in so many packages," Walls said. "There wasn't one way to get him the ball. We used a lot of jet sweeps, he was the focal point of our return game, he lined up a wildcat, he caught passes. And his play at cornerback, too. I know we're talking about his offense, but defensively he made a lot of plays, too.
"He had his handprint all over our success."
At wideout, every time he caught the ball it was good for 24 yards. He was easily quarterback Sage Chambers' favorite weapon, his 39 catches for 913 yards and 15 scores pacing the Navarre receiving corps.
His 13.7 yards per carry also paced the area, and his 560 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground helped provide a change of pace from lead back Omari Green and backup Chris Williams.
In the field position battle, he tacked on a team-best 586 return yards.
But more than cumulative stats, consistency mattered.
Every game he scored. Every game he eclipsed the century mark in yardage.
Like a true MVP, Wright wasn't concerned with where they lined him up. Just that he had the opportunity.
"I just did whatever was best for the team," Wright said. "Whether it be kicking or catching the ball or playing in the secondary, my focus was on contributing."
Wright's best attribute was his 4.4 40-yard dash speed. Once he hit the edge, no one was catching him.
"I'm more of an East-West runner," he said. "We ran a lot of jet sweeps, so any time I could get past to the sideline, I was off to the races."
Yet that was never Wright's calling card in his early playing days. When he entered the 8th grade, he was just a decently fast kid who enjoyed playing quarterback.
That year, something clicked. By freshman year he was slotted into the wideout and cornerback roles.
"Then I realized I could be one of the fastest in the area," he said. "Now that kind of sets me apart."
Apart? How about into another stratosphere.
By season's end, Wright had 18 plays of more than 50 yards. That includes two touchdown receptions of 83 and 59 yards in the Elite Eight loss at St. Augustine.
In the biggest of games, Wright delivered four grabs for 157 yards and two touchdowns and 198 all-purpose yards.
"A big play is a big play, and any time I can break one, it feels good. It feels better when they lead to wins, but that wasn't the case there," Wright said. "They were a good team and we just couldn't get it done that week."
But Wright will be back next year. Back to win a state title. Back to defend his POY honor. Back to shore up the Division I scholarship that will no doubt soon come as recruiting heats up.
Then maybe he can return to Navarre a college star next to Carter, the two ready to give their two cents on the next great star.