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Tuesday, April 17, 2007 Dwayne Wright is a Fresno State running back, but his football roots are San Diego’s Lincoln High. It’s the reason he views the upcoming NFL draft as more than an opportunity to earn a paycheck.

Any kid playing football dreams of the NFL, but Wright feels an added responsibility. Better yet, he says he considers it an obligation to embrace Lincoln’s history and earn the right to wear an NFL uniform.

“I have a chance to be the first Lincoln player this century to make it in the NFL,” Wright said. “There is a lot of tradition at Lincoln. I want to be a bridge between the past and the future. I want to make it in the NFL and be able to come back to campus and spend a lot of time with students. I want to be an example.”

Actually, if you know your San Diego football history, he’d be Lincoln’s 25th example on a list that includes Marcus Allen and Terrell Davis. Lincoln has long enjoyed a status as second in the nation only to Long Beach Poly at turning NFL players, but the Hornets have been stuck at 24 since 1999.

Not since quarterback Akili Smith was taken as the third pick of the 1999 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals has Lincoln produced an NFL player.

Lincoln has been closed the past three years so that the decaying campus in Southeast San Diego could be torn down and rebuilt, but that’s not the reason for the drought. It started a decade earlier when the San Diego Unified School District allowed the campus to deteriorate and become a dumping ground for the district’s problem students.

Wright was Lincoln’s last All-CIF Player of the Year as a senior in 2000 when he led the Hornets to the Division III finals at Qualcomm Stadium, although the Hornets lost to Mission Bay 27-13.

Many of the best athletes in Lincoln’s neighborhood were bussing out to other schools in the 1990s. But Wright stayed home. Lincoln’s tradition was the reason.

He wanted to become the next great Lincoln running back, following in the footsteps of Allen and Davis, who are two of only nine players to be named both an NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP.

Wright wears a tattoo on his bulging right bicep that reads in English script “Southeast.” It’s a sign of his pride much in the manner that Helix High alumnus Reggie Bush, now a New Orleans Saints running back, wore “619” eye black at USC.

“That’s where I’m from,” Wright said. “I always wanted to play football at Lincoln.”

Wright, who had two 1,000-yard seasons at Fresno State, is ranked as high as among the top five running backs in the NFL Draft April 28-29. He could be a first-day pick in the first three rounds.

Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson and Cal’s Marshawn Lynch are rated as first-round picks, with Wright, Louisville’s Michael Bush and Penn State’s Tony Hunt closely grouped among the next bunch of prospects.

But Wright had to pull off a remarkable comeback to have his name listed among the 2007 draft prospects.

As a sophomore in 2003, he ran for 1,038 yards, but in the second game of the 2004 season at Kansas State, he suffered a torn patellar tendon from a horse collar tackle. The injury not only ended his season, he wasn’t ready to play in 2005.

“The injury was tough at the time, but I see it as a blessing now,” Wright said. “It gave me a new work ethic and I got a lot stronger working out. It also made me more of a student of the game.”

He also said it was a wakeup call in the classroom. Wright, a broadcast journalism major who served an internship at Fresno’s ESPN 1430, will graduate in May.

As a senior 2006, Wright rushed for 1,495 yards and 11 touchdowns and was named Fresno State’s MVP. Against Louisiana Tech, he broke an 84-year-old school record when he ran for 295 yards, a total that was the second highest in college football last year.

Wright, a 6-foot-1, 210-pounder as a sophomore, now weighs 223 pounds with his increased strength. But his stock in the draft dropped after the NFL Combine when he ran a slow 40-yard time that some NFL teams recorded at 4.7 seconds. He says he has since run a 4.58 and 4.61 when he took part in a Pro Day workout for scouts at San Diego State.

“San Diego State didn’t recruit me in high school,” Wright said, “but I have to thank them for letting me come to the Pro Day.”

So far, he has received the most interest from the Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles. Those four teams flew him in for interviews.

Lincoln isn’t Wright’s only San Diego team, though, since he would consider it a dream come true to play for the Chargers. He says he’s been following closely reports that some NFL teams are considering trading for Chargers backup running back Michael Turner.

If Turner was traded, the Chargers would suddenly be in the market for a backup running back to 2006 NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson.

“I would love to play for the Chargers,” he said. “It would be a great opportunity to be a backup and learn from a veteran like LaDainian Tomlinson. I hope whatever team I end up with, I have a chance to learn from a veteran.”

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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