Vanderbilt Athletics photo / Vanderbilt junior quarterback Mike Wright is hoping for celebrations this season at the expense of Southeastern Conference opposition.

If only the adjustment to Southeastern Conference competition wasn't so steep, especially from the rebuilding standpoint of Vanderbilt.

When Commodores junior quarterback Mike Wright played at Woodward Academy just south of Atlanta in Fayetteville, he dominated some stout GHSA Class AAAA opposition. The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder led the War Eagles to a 13-1 record and a state semifinal run his senior season, amassing 2,653 passing yards, 716 rushing yards and 50 total touchdowns.

Wright is entering his third season in Nashville, and he's still seeking to savor a league win.

"You can't create college football," Wright said at SEC media days last month. "As much as you try to make it game-like, being in the game is a whole lot different. Having some games under my belt will really help."

Wright began last season as the backup to Ken Seals before supplanting him midway through the year and starting five of the final six games. He completed 93 of 175 passes (53.1%) for 1,042 yards with eight touchdowns and six interceptions, and he also rushed 91 times for 373 yards for an average of 4.1 yards per carry.

Seals threw for 1,181 yards but had five touchdowns and eight interceptions, and the junior from Azle, Texas, simply doesn't have Wright's rushing ability, which resulted in second-year Commodores coach Clark Lea making a decision way sooner than later as to the starter for the Aug. 27 trip to Hawaii.

"It's all about moving the ball," Lea said. "One way to do that is with a mobile quarterback, and Mike Wright is one of the best in the country in that respect. We've wanted him to develop as a total quarterback, which he has. He's demonstrated leadership abilities, too.

"We're excited for him to enter the fall as our starting quarterback, but he knows that he has to earn that every day. That's part of our covenant."


Last year: 2-10 (0-8 SEC)

Opener: Aug. 27 against Hawaii in Honolulu (10:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network)

Fun fact: Vanderbilt’s enrollment of 7,057 isn’t even 10% of Texas A&M’s enrollment of 73,284.

Vanderbilt's first two SEC games last season yielded losses to Georgia and Florida by the combined score of 104-0. The Commodores then traveled to South Carolina with Wright making his debut, and his dual-threat talents provided an instant injection into what had been a lifeless attack.

Wright completed 11 of 21 passes for 206 yards and rushed for another 43 as Vandy lost a 21-20 heartbreaker in the final minute. His 152 rushing yards kept the Commodores competitive during a 37-28 loss to Missouri on Halloween weekend, and while November setbacks to Kentucky, 34-17, Ole Miss, 31-17, and Tennessee, 45-21, didn't exactly go down to the wire, they weren't humiliating either.

"There was a level of progression, and I think that's why everyone is excited for this upcoming season," Wright said. "That level of growth as a program and as an organization is there. There is a different attitude, and we are ready to go."

Wright doesn't just stop at a single quarterback when asked about who he emulates, but he does start with the same one.

"I'm an Atlanta guy, so Mike Vick was a big influence," he said. "Now, I really just pick different guys in the NFL, because each has something that they do better than others. I'm not the most traditional quarterback, so not too many quarterbacks play with my style. I will pull from Russell Wilson. I will watch Lamar Jackson. I will never watch Patrick Mahomes, because that's a different guy who does stuff that nobody else can imitate.

"There's Josh Allen and Justin Fields, and then there are different guys around the SEC. I'm real close with Hook — Hendon Hooker — at the orange school. We text every day. We both want to make it to the next level."

Wright is the son of an engineer and teacher, and he has been an SEC Academic Honor Roll fixture. He was informed after spring practice that the starting job would be his and said of the situation: "The only thing that means is taking the first snap. I have to earn it every single day."

Amid a year of either proven or promising quarterbacks within the league, Wright has a chance to set the tone in Honolulu. It's certain to be a unique journey and experience, with the Commodores scheduled to fly out almost a full week in advance.

"We're excited to go," Wright said. "We're ready to go. Coach is having to tell guys every day to tone it back."

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