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Flames Feature: A Skilled Craftsman

October 11, 2013
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Editorial Note: This article was the feature story in the Flames Illustrated football game day program on Sept. 28, when Liberty defeated Kentucky Wesleyan, 73-7. Richard Wright has been a staple on Liberty's special teams, having started 39 consecutive games at long snapper.

"Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle."

The verse, Psalm 144:1, is the favorite of Liberty senior long snapper Richard Wright.

"I used to tape my wrists up when I snapped, and during my first two years of college I would write the verse on them. Then later on, I decided that if I got a tattoo I wouldn't have to write it anymore," Wright recalled, with the bold, black letters of the verse inked onto the backs of his arms.

The inspiration is clear. Hands are the long snapper's tools of the trade, and the passage's focus on them is what makes the verse particularly meaningful for Wright.

He views his on-field job, in fact, less like that of the traditional athlete and more like that of a tradesman or artist, for whom skill of the hands is equally vital.

"I like to think of it as a craft," the senior explained. "I tell everybody, joking around, that I don't actually play football – I have a craft. I go out there, I do my thing and then I get off the field."

"Oh, I think it's definitely a craft – a learned skill, but he has a true knack for it and some really good ability, technique-wise, talking about operation time and snap times," relayed assistant coach Josh Bookbinder with an affirmative nod. "He's a really good snapper."

In his redshirt junior year, Wright was named a preseason All-American and all-conference long snapper and earned a spot the Big South All-Conference first team. He started every game, finishing the season with no bad snaps and aiding punter Grant Bowden and placekicker John Lunsford to excellent seasons of their own.

Consider his simultaneous transition from the shield punt to a pro-style scheme, and suddenly the battle parallels within Wright's favorite Psalm ring a bit truer.

"With the punt we were running before Coach Gill came, a shield style of punt, Richard was able to snap and just free release. Now, he snaps and has an assignment, which for him took some learning and some growing," Bookbinder explained. "But he embraced it. He wants to know every day how can get better not only at snapping the ball, but also being able to execute his assignment. He has grown in that and is still getting better daily."

"If anything, I'm playing more football than I was when I was just snapping and running upfield," Wright elaborated with a good-natured chuckle. "Now my job has more meaning to it."

Despite the initial, admittedly difficult transition, he credits his present success in the scheme to increasing experience built last season and, in yet another glimpse of the tradesman behind the helmet, "practice, practice and more practice."

"Richard is consistent. Every day he shows up, he's the same guy, and you don't have to question whether or not he's going to do what he needs to do to get better because he's steady. He's just coming to work everyday," echoed Bookbinder.

Wright's passion for strength and conditioning lends itself to his self-declared enjoyment of that work. Honing the muscle-memory ability of long snapping suits him.

"I don't really have a life outside of football," Wright laughed, "but I enjoy it. I'm a behind-the-scenes guy. I live in the weight room, love learning about how God created the body and how it works, and just continue every day to keep snapping, snapping, snapping."

While he openly hopes continued growth in the pro-style punt formation will lead to a professional career ("Of course I do," he stated, "it's any young boy's dream, ever since he was a kid; that's anybody's dream who plays any type of football, to play in the NFL. Of course that's mine, too."), Wright is quick to reiterate his primary motivation.

The message of Psalm 144:1, emblazoned on his arms, is what Wright firmly, perpetually points to as the heart behind his abilities.

"There's so much meaning to it for me," he declared. "With the verse talking about ‘my hands,' and my being a snapper, it makes me realize that no matter what I do as a football player, it's God who has blessed me with the talent of my hands or any other talent I've ever had."

Snapping with skilled hands of a craftsman and embracing the battle of his blocking assignments, fans can expect to find Wright – and spot his testimonial tattoos – at the heart of Liberty's special teams unit for the remainder of the season. On every extra point, field goal and high-stakes punt to come, the Flames know one thing for sure: the ball is in good hands.
By Ryley Rush who is a Liberty University junior and is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics