Manuel Wright, who was expected to be a first-year starter in 2005 after serving as a key reserve for the past two seasons, sat out spring ball in an effort to improve his academics to the point where he could remain eligible. Unfortunately, those efforts were unsuccessful and Manuel was left with the choice of remaining in school and trying to regain his eligibility (while not playing football) or leaving school and entering the supplemental draft.
He was generally considered among the top recruits in the country coming out of Long Beach Poly where he was a member of the so-called Fab Five that included future Trojan teammates Darnell Bing, Hershel Dennis and Winston Justice. Nobody questioned his physical ability as Manuel had a rare combination of size, strength and speed in his 6-6, 300 frame which allowed him to overpower many an opponent. In his senior year with the Jackrabbits he had 142 tackles (60 solo) and 16 sacks, he was also a three year starter who captured 3 CIF title rings.
Academic troubles surfaced early on, however, as Manuel did not qualify for admission to USC and he was forced to attend Long Beach City College for a year (he did not play football) before eventually arriving for the 2003 season. It was a rocky start in his first fall camp under Ed Orgeron and there were rumblings from longtime observers who wondered if Wright, who didn’t come to camp in great shape, would last under the relentless pressure from Coach O. Manny had an up and down first season with flashes of promising play to go along with periods of inconsistency. It had to be frustrating for a demanding coach like Orgeron but the temptation of working with an incredible athlete like Wright outweighed the problems that came with his mental lapses.
All told in his freshman season Manny had eight tackles and three pass deflections but it was a short stretch in the Rose Bowl where he had a sack and a pass deflection which symbolized his potential. For Trojan fans it was a glimpse into the future and a safety net to know that the defensive tackle spot was going to be in good hands once Cody was gone. In his sophomore year Manny showed progress by coming to camp in better shape and giving an increased effort in drills. The harder work paid off early in the year with a fumble recovery for a touchdown against Colorado State (he also had a team high six tackles in that game). Manuel ended up starting two games (BYU and Arizona) when Cody moved to end and for the season Wright had 23 tackles, including six for losses, to go along with two sacks. None of those sacks were bigger than the one on second down of the final drive against Cal. He played the second half of the year with a sprained elbow and was named honorable mention All Pac-10. An ankle injury at the end of the season left his participation in doubt for the Orange Bowl but, as we all know, he had three tackles (2.5 for loss) and played inspired football that night as he won his 2nd national title ring in two years at USC.
That’s five rings in his last five football seasons for Manuel but his career as a USC Trojan is now over as he moves on and leaves a deeper hole in the middle of a Trojan defensive line already missing the presence of Cody and Patterson. Manuel was counted on to be one of the key elements to fill the void of the two All-Americans but now we must look to La Juan Ramsey to step up and take advantage of the opportunity being presented to him. In all likelihood we will see LaJuan enter fall camp as the starter at DT with Sedrick Ellis next to him at the nose tackle spot.