Derek Wright: From JUCO Walk-on to UDFA Carolina Panthers WR

Photo provided by @derekwright_05

A walk-on wide receiver at Snow College (JUCO) in Ephraim, Utah and then at Utah State, Derek Wright didn’t earn a scholarship until the summer of 2020. When all said and done, Wright would leave the Aggies as a Mountain West champion. He earned All-Mountain West honorable mention accolades in 2021 while ranking second in program history with 11 touchdown catches during the season.

Through two NFL preseason games, he has had four receptions for 78 yards. We caught up with Wright to discuss his journey.

1. From being a JUCO walk-on to a scholarship player at Utah State, what was the scariest part of the journey? What was the best part of the journey?

For me, the scariest part of my journey was not knowing if I was going to be successful. As a walk-on, my whole goal was to be able to help the team during the season, and eventually earn a scholarship. I knew that if I didn’t perform well, I wasn’t going to get the opportunity to be put on scholarship. Before I got a scholarship at Utah State, times were hard. It made it that much more important for me to make sure I gave myself the best chance to get a scholarship.

2. How has your faith helped you on the field?

I have always used my faith to help me on the field. I know that my heavenly father has helped me get to this point in my career, and I will always know that I wouldn’t be here without his love and support. Having a strong faith has helped me in times of doubt to feel that everything will be alright.

3. Being married and playing football is pretty common in Utah. How did that help you in school and football?

Being married in college was one of the biggest blessings of my life. My wife was my biggest supporter, and always believed in me to follow my dreams. She worked multiple jobs and donated plasma with me, so that we would have the financial means necessary to allow me to continue paying for school, so I could stay on the field.

4. How does it feel to go from walk-on JUCO receiver to Mountain West champion?

Being a Mountain West champion is something that I will always be proud of. We went from a one-win season to a championship team in one year. I will always cherish the memories and friendships that I created during my last year at Utah State. Being a champion is something nobody will ever be able to take away from me.

Derek Wright celebrates with his family after the 2021 Mountain West Championship. (Photo provided)

5. Getting signed as an undrafted free agent in the NFL must have felt amazing. When you got the call from the Carolina Panthers, what was your first thought?

When I first got the call notifying me that the Panthers were signing me as an undrafted free agent, I couldn’t believe it. That day was long and stressful, but when I got that call, it made it all worth it. My whole life, I had a dream of playing in the NFL, and the Panthers were one of my favorite teams growing up. The Panthers have given me an opportunity to fulfill my dream. I am doing everything I can to take advantage of it.

6. How does being able to play in the NFL preseason feel?

Playing in the first two preseason games this year has been a pretty surreal feeling. Amongst all of the game day chaos, I have tried to just soak it all in and realize how grateful I am to be here. There are a lot of people out there in the world that would do anything to play in one of these games. That is something that gives me a little more motivation each day.

7. What has the biggest surprise so far through two preseason games?

NFL games move very fast. The speed of the game is fast; all of the players are fast, and you have to think fast. Although everyone on the field is much more talented at this level, I have also been surprised by the fact that during the game, it sort of feels like another college game for me. I have been able to stay calm and allow myself to feel like I’m back at Utah State, making plays for my team.

8. What was your favorite memory from your time at Utah State?

My favorite memory at Utah State had to be the (conference) championship game for sure. A lot of people thought that it was a fluke that we made it there, and it was nice to go out there and take care of business in a big way. My touchdown in the corner of the end zone to get the scoring started for us is a memory I’ll think about for a long time.

9. Would do you consider the best restaurant in Logan?

I would say the best restaurant in Logan is Elements Restaurant. There are a lot of close seconds, such as Firehouse Pizzeria, Beehive Grill, Hermes, Angie’s and La Unica (Smithfield), but the Elements was a different vibe that provided a different kind of food than most of the other restaurants.

10. If you had to give advice to someone on a similar path to yours, what would you say to them?

I would tell them to just keep their head down and continue to work. The path that I have taken hasn’t been easy, but it has been rewarding. It doesn’t matter if others believe in you, as long as you believe in yourself. There were times along my journey where I thought about giving up, but I was fortunate enough to have people in my corner who kept pushing me and wanted to see me succeed.

11. If you could play in a golf foursome with anyone alive or dead, which three other people would you want to play with?

If I could play golf in any foursome of my choice, I would have to pick Steph Curry, Tiger Woods, and Kevin Hart. I think that playing alongside Steph and Tiger would be an unreal experience, and I would want Kevin Hart there just provide all the comedy for the group.

12. How does it feel that your brother Wes finally came to the right school in Utah?

I am glad that Wesley has made his way up to Logan. I am upset at the fact that he waited until I left to head up there, but nonetheless, I think that he will do well at Utah State, and I am even more excited now to watch them this season.