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Tillman’s Wright working hard for John Paul squad

  • Matt Dakolios/Special to the Jasper Sun Times - Nyleem Wright (far right) stands next to his teammate new Reco Anderson and his team at the 7-on-7’s at Whale Branch on June 8.
  • Matt Dakolios/Special to the Jasper Sun Times - RHHS and John Paul battle in the Whale Branch 7-on-7.

Seven a.m.

That’s when John Paul II football coach Kevin Wald blows the first whistle of the day, signaling the start of workouts. The boys file out of the locker room, sleepy-eyed, and walk down the hall to the weight room for lifting.

Most of the players are from the Bluffton and Beaufort area, but Nyleem Wright lives in Tillman in Jasper County. To get to the workouts at 7 a.m. he has to leave his house around 6.

Sometimes he stops on his way to pick up his cousin Rashad Battiste or sometimes Battiste picks him up, but they are always on the road at 6 a.m. sharp.

Sometimes Wright finds it frustrating waking up so early — presumably as he’s driving down S.C. 336 toward the school on Okatie Highway. But as soon as he steps into the weight room, he remembers the purpose behind his sacrifice.

“I got to be a better leader. They (John Paul) taught me how to be a leader, how to work hard, how to be successful in life,” Wright said about his reason for transferring to John Paul. “I’ve been telling everyone to come here, because John Paul is a great program (athletically); it’s a great education program. This is a very good school to go to if you want to go somewhere.”

John Paul’s football program, under Wald, is growing. From the end of spring practice to the present, Wald said two athletes have transferred to the school and he thinks others might make a last-second switch.

Why? Because the future at John Paul is bright.

The team was 0-10 last season in its inaugural 11-man season, but the entire team — coaching staff, athletic director, players — all feel the tide changing.

Three weeks ago, the Golden Warriors participated in a 7-on-7 competition against Whale Branch and Ridgeland-Hardeeville.

“They had at least five more athletes than us. But we competed well with them,” Wright said. “It wasn’t like they threw a couple passes and then threw a bomb for a touchdown — it wasn’t a blowout. It was competitive. My program is developing faster, we’re improving. We’re going to win games this year. I see us winning our first game. I’m so excited. I’m so pumped. I’ve been telling everyone, my mom, my uncle.”

No official score was kept, but the scrimmages didn’t feel one-sided.

“I thought it was pretty fair and balanced all around. It’s definitely making us better for the regular season,” Wald said.

Yes, there’s things to work on — Wald thinks his linebackers are still playing too far off the ball. The freshman quarterback still hesitates a bit in the pocket. The receivers and corners need to be more aggressive. But those concerns are, in regard to the grand scheme, easy fixes that will come naturally.

“We’re now focusing on schematics — offensive stalls, defensive stalls,” Wald said. “I would say we’re still extremely young. The majority of our team is ninth- and 10th-graders, so every chance we have to go out there and do something we have to do it and get better. It’s correctable stuff.”

Wald is serious about winning. He expects tangible results this season. And as much as he works to groom football players, he’s more interested in grooming and shaping young men. The players are expected to perform community service hours — it’s actually a school requirement for the athletes. Wald’s players trade off helping out at John Paul football camps. Wright took last week’s camp.

Over the last week, JPII had football, basketball and girls basketball camps.

Wright made the trek to campus on his week off from workouts, for community service, but also because he wants to be there — on campus, in the program.

Wright became a JPII student after his freshman year at RHHS. He’s now a rising senior, three-sport varsity athlete, and hot on the recruiting trail for basketball and football. He’s got a basketball visit coming up with a mid-major school Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) in August.

Colleges have been sent him letters, applications, emails, and he’s in awe of it.

“Don’t question your ability in life, you can do anything you want, but you have to grind and grind every day and strive to work hard,” said Wright in summary of the lessons he’s learned while at John Paul. “It’s great to see a college reaching out to me, I didn’t have that until I came here.”

There’s just six weeks until he suits up to play his final football season as a Golden Warrior. It’s going to be filled with honors and AP courses, college visits, and varsity practices, all in hopes of signing a letter of intent to play basketball or football in college.

Until then, he’ll wake up early, meet his cousin Battiste and make the 40-minute drive to school.

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