On the first offensive play for Arroyo Grande High’s football team Friday night, coach Tom Goossen called a play-action pass against a typically aggressive Lompoc defense.
The plan: get the ball to No. 26 Jeremiah Wright, a senior slot receiver who had never caught a pass for the varsity team.
“Seeing the call, I did get a little bit excited and did see (a touchdown) coming,” Wright said. “I just tried to stay calm and go through it.”
The call worked to perfection. The linebackers crashed and the safety bit on the fake, leaving the middle of the field wide open. Quarterback Sawyer May hit Wright in stride.
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“The throw was on point,” Wright said.
Wright calmly handed the ball to the referee like he had been there 100 times before and ran back to the sideline as quickly as he ran through the Braves secondary.
Wright was untouched as he strolled 75 yards into the end zone and tied the score 7-7.
Goossen said he used Arroyo Grande’s reputation as a run-first team against Lompoc and felt confident putting the ball in the hands of May and Wright.
Last season, the 5-foot-8, 140-pound Wright played for the junior varsity team and saw the field a few times for the varsity as a running back. His first touchdown was the difference for the state-ranked Eagles (1-0) on the way to its opening 34-28 win over Lompoc.
“Honestly, I didn’t even think of it as my first catch,” Wright said after practice Monday. “After hearing that it was my first catch I had to remember and think about last year and then I realized, yeah, it was my first catch.”
Wright caught one more pass in the contest, and finished the game with 85 yards receiving.
“He’s not big, but he has tremendous work ethic and there’s a sense of confidence that he brings,” Goossen said.
Wright wasn’t the only player to make his first catch for the varsity Friday. Junior varsity teammate Noah Thinger, who was also playing in his first varsity game, was May’s favorite target on the foggy Friday night. Thinger and Wright have been playing together since their youth football days.
“I was a little scared, but after the first play I was good,” Thinger said Monday after his five-reception, 40-yard game. “It was way different than JV year, under the lights. It was really awesome.”
Thinger, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior, was thrust into the starting role after classmate and expected starter Jack Hogeboom moved with his family to San Francisco. On Friday, Thinger showed he belonged by showing off his sticky fingers as he used every inch of his frame to grab two passes high above his head.
“He saved my butt a couple times,” May said.
“Noah is dynamic and has great hands,” Goossen said. “He has caught the ball about as well as anyone and really elevated his game.”
On a team packed with all-league players from last season, Thinger and Wright were just a couple of the players who make a good impressions in their first game of the season.
The Arroyo Grande football team will need to continue to cash in on big plays from inexperienced players if it wants to live up to its lofty ranking.
“I say every year that an average junior can become a great senior,” Goossen said.