COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Junior wide receiver Winston Wright Jr. is on track to become as much a household name as Tavon Austin.
Last night’s Maryland game handed him the single-game program record for kickoff-return yardage. His 217 return yards, over the course of five returns, are the new program high; the 199-yard record, previously held by Austin, was set nearly a full decade ago against Kansas State on Oct. 20, 2012. Austin concluded his time in the Big East as one of four WVU receivers to finish with 1,000+ receiving yards in a single season [1,186] in 2011, and if Wright Jr. can keep last night’s agility up, he’ll be among those numbers soon. He made the 2021 Preseason All-Big 12 Fourth Team for kickoff returns (Phil Steele), and one game in, he’s already proving that he deserved to be higher.
Wright Jr. is also now the only player in program history to notch more than 200 kickoff return yards in a single game. Wright Jr.’s entire 2020 statistics, spaced over 20 returns, only returned the ball 425 yards, so he’s off to a hot start.
After coming just shy of a 100-yard return in last night’s Maryland competition, Wright Jr. is also in possession of another program record.
His 98-yard kickoff return in the first quarter, which eventually lead to a Leddie Brown touchdown run, is at the top of its own category. It’s the longest non-scoring Mountaineer kickoff return and ties for the 11th-longest return in WVU football history. Had that return found the Maryland end zone, he would have joined Austin as one of seven Mountaineers to return a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
“I would say I just understand the scheme,” Wright Jr. said. “So what we’re drawing up, I know how to draw the defenders to the opposite side. Then, you just hit the hole.”
Those 98 yards were the longest of his career, slightly topping 2019’s 95-yard return against the Baylor Bears. That was his true freshman season, and it’s only been up from there. It’s the longest by a Mountaineer since Shelton Gibson’s 100-yard return, also against the Baylor Bears, on Oct. 17, 2015.
“On the sweep kickoff returns, I just did what I was told,” Wright Jr. said of his game one performance vs. Maryland. “What we were supposed to do all week and what we practiced.”
He’s taken what head coach Neal Brown expects of him to heart as he steps into an upperclassman role. Whether it’s as a special teams bullet or a target for quarterback Jarret Doege, Wright Jr. is poised to be an inimitable force on ball movement and field position, adding to last year’s 47 receptions for 553 receiving yards.
Brown is impressed with Wright Jr.’s trajectory, saying that, “He’s added weight and strength has come with that but also more explosiveness. I think he’s going to be able to break tackles at a higher pace than he did a year ago. I think he is primed to be one of the better receivers in our conference. I’m excited for his growth, he showed flashes last year. He’s got to be more consistent, but his daily actions say that he is going to be.”
Wright Jr. and the Mountaineers (0-1) will get another chance to add to the program record-breaking statistics on Sept. 11 at home against Long Island. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.