Knee problems not enough to stop Wright West Chester quarterback finally has his legs under him.

Posted: August 27, 2009

Some people outside the locker room of the West Chester University football team may not have heard of Joe Wright.

They probably don't know that he's one of the best quarterbacks in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.

Perhaps, if they're casual college football fans, folks are not aware of his multiple knee injuries and subsequent surgeries - and his drive to overcome them.

Wright is an NCAA Division II football player, which could account for the lack of recognition in a state in which Division I power Penn State reigns supreme. But by season's end, the sixth-year signalcaller's name could get etched in national history books.

Wright, 23, is a candidate for the Harlon Hill Trophy, which goes to the Division II player of the year.

"Joe can make throws," said Gerald Toney, the West Chester offensive coordinator. "Joe can put the ball where we need to put the ball. You know he will put it where the receiver can go get it."

Last season, his first as a starter, Wright threw for 3,336 yards and 28 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. His passing efficiency (158.06) ranked 13th in Division II, and he ranked 20th in total offense with 3,387 yards.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder leads West Chester into today's 6 p.m. season-opener at Lock Haven.

The Golden Knights, ranked 20th nationally in the American Football Coaches Association (Division II) poll, look to jump-start another successful season. West Chester is coming off its third straight nine-win campaign and second consecutive undefeated mark in the PSAC Eastern Division.

"I'm going to do whatever it takes to get us as far as possible," Wright said. "The NCAA playoffs, PSAC East champs and PSAC champs . . . take it as far as possible, trying to get to Alabama [for the national championship] in December."

Directing a Division II program wasn't something Wright envisioned nine years ago.

Back then as a sophomore, Wright was the starting quarterback at St. Mark's High School in Wilmington. A standout, he expected to one day play for a big-time Division I team.

"I got a few letters my sophomore year from West Virginia, Virginia, Nebraska and a bunch of big-time schools like that," Wright said. "It was looking pretty good, and then I got hurt."

In the third game of that season, Wright tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Unfazed, he put a brace on the knee and was back on the field a month later. That turned out to be a bad move. He did further damage in the second quarter of his first game back and was forced to get season-ending surgery.

And that wasn't the last ACL tear in his right knee.

He reinjured the knee in the ninth game of the following season. Wright once again persuaded the coaches to allow him back on the field. He played through the pain in a playoff game and the state final before having a second operation.

After his knee injuries, Wright threw for 2,179 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior at St. Mark's and was named Delaware's player of the year.

Despite his successful season, the ligament tears scared off big-time recruiters.

"Once everyone backs off, you are like, 'Wow, I'm still a good player,' " Wright said of the shock of not getting offers from major schools. "At first, I was like, 'I'm not going to West Chester. I'm better than that.'

"But then again, I came here to show people that I still could play."

Wright redshirted his freshman year. He saw spot duty in nine games over the next three seasons. In that ninth game, a road contest at Delaware, his left knee was caught in the turf while eluding a defender.

"Another ACL tear. This time in my left leg," said Wright, who was awarded a medical redshirt as a result of the injury.

At the time, he considered giving up football, but he loved playing the game too much.

"I don't know what I would be able to do if I didn't play football," he said.

So, Wright focused on getting back on the field and becoming last season's starter. He went on to post big numbers en route to leading West Chester to its fifth straight Division II playoff appearance. But his successful season didn't conclude without an injury.

Wright tore the meniscus in his left knee in a 28-21 second-round playoff loss to Bloomsburg. Playing through the injury, he completed 20 of 39 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.

Wright had surgery in the off-season, didn't miss any time during spring practice, and his latest injury hasn't affected him during camp.

"There is no quit in him," head coach Bill Zwaan said. "He had a series of injuries. It didn't hold him back. He just kept pressing forward."

Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 610-313-8029 or kpompey@phillynews.com.

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