Note: Right now Gabe is still on the Nagurski Watch List. There's a decent chance he plays more on the end than the interior, so he could possibly be removed from that list because of this as the season progresses rather than because he's not playing well. Hopefully he excels everywhere on the line he might play.
We were still flying high as National Champions when a kid from Columbus, GA announced he'd be playing at Auburn. The No. 3 defensive tackle in the nation (and the No. 26 prospect overall) had just committed to Auburn with an unusual flair for the dramatic*-a custom embroidered Auburn hat that said "Nick Who?" Was he calling out that guy in Tuscaloosa? Nope. He was calling out Lombardi winner Nick "The QB Killer" Fairley.
That kid is now a senior ready to bring another championship home to Auburn. Gabe Wright has been named to the Outland Trophy (defensive player of the year) and Bronko Nagurski Trophy (top interior lineman) Watch Lists. He is also on the pre-season All-SEC first team and represented Auburn at SEC Media Days.
In 2013, he led the team with 31 tackles, including 8.5 for losses and three sacks, but with injuries shaking up the defense, Wright will be called upon to be a more explosive and versatile player.
His physical transformation is no secret, with Wright posting photos of his dramatic weight loss. Strength and conditioning Coach Ryan Russell has helped Wright drop weight and build lean muscle, which should allow for introduction of the "Rhino Package," a four tackle defensive front with Wright coming off the end.
Calling out Nick Fairley in your signing day press conference is a pretty gutsy move. Those are big shoes to fill. This year, Wright has the chance to lead the defense back to national prominence, live up to that "Nick Who?" comment, and boost his NFL stock. Let's see what he can do.
*Not nearly as dramatic as his high school teammate's live bulldog puppy, but we all know how that worked out.