Miller took a look at the 5-foot-10, 170-pound receiver when he stepped on campus this summer. He watched Wright during conditioning drills and studied his work in the weight room.
“He came in laid back and was out of shape and we were all like, ‘Why would they recruit this guy?’” Miller said.
After four weeks of practice and with the season opener against Western Illinois looming, Miller wasn’t ashamed to admit he was wrong about the freshman this week.
“If we need a big play, we’re going to go to Jarius Wright,” he said. “That’s very odd to hear for a freshman, but he has assumed that role and he is doing a great job.”
Wright is one of about 20 true freshmen expected to debut Saturday, but there’s little debate the former Warren High star will be the most intriguing new Hog to watch.
He has been named Arkansas’ starter at the “Z” wide receiver position. Wright also is its punt returner. To top it off, he will join safety Elton Ford as Arkansas’ top kickoff return men.
It sounds like a loaded plate for a player just out of high school, but Wright said he’s eager to prove he can handle it.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” Wright admitted. “But you know, I’ve been playing football all my life. Another football game is like another football game. I just have to go out and play to the best of my ability and help the team as much as I can.”
It’s the same approach Wright carried into preseason camp, where he wasn’t the most touted offensive freshman in the Razorbacks’ signing class. Those honors went to receiver Joe Adams and running back De’Anthony Curtis, who both missed practice time because of nagging injuries.
Wright — who caught 58 passes for 1,350 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at Warren — has been Arkansas’ most productive newcomer since the first week.
He caught a touchdown pass in the first scrimmage, broke free for big plays in practices and has been one of quarterback Casey Dick’s most reliable targets.
“He’s a quick learner,” Petrino said. “I thought he did an excellent job of learning what we’re asking him to do. And what I like most is the way he runs with the ball after the catch and his ability to make plays with the ball underneath his arm.
“I think his mental toughness will really help and his competitiveness will really help him as a true freshman.”
Wright said it hasn’t been as easy as it looks, admitting he was roughed up by Arkansas’ cornerbacks when he started working out with the team this summer.
In addition, effort on every play was an early obstacle when practice began. It was common to see receivers coach Paul Petrino shouting at Wright after he caught a pass and jogged downfield. Petrino demands that his receivers sprint.
“I wasn’t used to going hard every play and going hard every play,” Wright said. “Working hard the whole practice. But I’ve really surprised myself with my work ethic.”
Teammates have been more surprised by his abilities.
Explosive and fast are the most common adjectives they’ve used to describe Wright. Miller said his best trait is the “extra gear” that helps him separate from defensive backs.
Safety Matt Harris said he’s armed with confidence, too.
“He comes in and he says, ‘I can burn all these guys,’” Harris said. “He’s not cocky, but if he didn’t have that kind of confidence I don’t think he’d be back there returning punts, kicks and working with the starting receivers as a true freshman. That’s a credit to him that he has a strong mental game as well as his speed to go along with it.”
Wright hasn’t been perfect. For instance, Paul Petrino said he struggled Monday before bouncing back Tuesday.
But the multi-dimensional receiver is hoping he’ll continue to prove himself on the field in his multiple roles.
“You can never do too much on the football field,” Wright said. “It really encourages me and gives me a lot of confidence in myself to know that the coaches have the confidence in me to put me in all of these positions to help the team.”
Position: Wide Receiver
Weight: 170 pounds
Notables: Named starter at “Z” receiver position and will handle punt return duties. Joins safety Elton Ford as Arkansas’ top kickoff returners. ... Caught 58 passes for 1,350 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior. Added eight more rushing touchdowns on 55 attempts. ... Was named the No. 3 prospect in Arkansas by Hawgs Illustrated. ... Also recruited by Minnesota, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas Tech.