June 9, 2014
Auburn DT Gabe Wright says days spent with Navy Seals left a lasting impact
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - Senior Auburn defensive tackle Gabe Wright was already a team leader. But four days with Navy Seals at the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, Calif., changed his outlook on football and life.
In May, Wright and eight teammates joined strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell and assistant Jeff Jones on the trip across the country to learn from the Navy’s elite fighting force. And, Wright says, learn they did.
“They gave us four levels of leadership, No. 4 being the best,” Wright says. “In my mind, I was at No. 1. I stated in front of my teammates and the Seal captain I’m at the 1 stage. Four is an unbelievable leader, puts everything down, you first, me next. In life, that’s hard. You have to understand it’s not just about me. I’m doing it for my teammates.”
Wright’s teammates would say he graded himself too harshly, but he and those who experienced the trip with him returned to Auburn determined to share what they had learned about leadership, living the right way and caring for those around you more than yourself.
“I feel like we are off to a fast start,” Wright says. “It was a big deal to bring leadership back and bring the things last year’s senior class brought.”
Wright, quarterback Nick Marshall, wide receiver Sammie Coates, linebacker Cassanova McKinzy, quarterback Jonathan Wallace, center Reese Dismukes, offensive guard Alex Kozan, safety Jermaine Whitehead and wide receiver Marcus Davis made the trip.
“It’s so easy to remember on those guys because we all had to speak out on our own,” Wright says. “Everybody spoke tremendous words. We all shared a real bond. Having a brother in the military, it only goes to show the tremendous amount of courage and loyalty you have to have.”
Wright and his teammates are working toward a season of great promise, driven by last season’s near-miss in a 34-31 loss to Florida State in the BCS Championship Game. But the trip west, he says, made a major impact on all who were there.
“If we go visit a place like that, we know they are the superstars,” Wright says. “What they do allows us to do what we do. Beside the physical part of it, we took leadership classes. We learned mental capabilities and how 90 percent of the game and life are truly mental. You can be 6-5 and 280 in a Navy Seal camp, and it doesn’t matter.”
The Auburn group went through one full day of physical training. Wright says it was nothing like what is required of even aspiring Seals, who have to go through a full week of intense training with a total of four hours of sleep. But it was enough.
“It was tough,” Wright says. “It was really tough, and we didn’t even do it to near the speed they do.”
Back in Auburn, Wright is focused on his senior season, on applying the leadership lessons he learned and on finishing what wasn’t finished last season at the Rose Bowl. It’s a far cry from a year ago when he was still trying to learn how to deal with the demanding ways of defensive line coach Rodney Garner and still stinging from a 3-9 season in 2012.
So much has changed.
“I’ve come a long way - physically, mentally, academics, on the field, off the field,” Wright says. “I’m fine with it happening the way it’s happened. I walked into a life skills class the other day with the incoming freshmen. I spoke about respecting females, handling your money and your classes.
“I want to credit my teammates. We really haven’t gotten in a lot of trouble. Coaches are important, but we are the ones that have to make those decisions. We had one of the best academic years we’ve ever had. Guys are busting their tails. They want to be successful.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: