Dakota Valley head football coach Jeff VanDenHul had no idea what to do with Braeden Wright when he was a freshman. Wright was 5-foot-9 and only 135 pounds and he wasn't physically ready to be a defensive lineman for the Panthers.
What VanDenHul did was stress the importance of the weight room to not only Wright, but also the whole team.
Wright took that advice to heart and started to work with strength and conditioning coach Cody Sexton.
While Wright started lifting as a freshman, it was in between his sophomore and junior seasons when he started to blossom. He changed his eating and sleeping habits and was in the weight room more. He even had a two-inch growth spurt.
By his junior season, Wright became a key player on Dakota Valley's defensive line and was a tight end for the Panthers.
When Wright's senior season started, his measurements came in at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds. From his freshman to senior seasons, Wright added about 80 pounds.
"It's kind of surprising when you look at 80 pounds. I've grown height wise and that helped but when you look how good of a coach Cody Sexton is and how the coaches support us, it is possible," said Wright, this week's Metro Athlete of the Week. "We have a lot of people that put on a lot of weight and you see the success on the field.
"I just like to credit the leadership of the guys in the past. Nate (Rice), Casey (Voichahoske), Jevin (Kratz) and Cole (Schulz), they all encouraged me along the way."
VanDenHul said by the end of his sophomore season, Wright was the one who decided he was going to be a football player.
"He doesn't miss a lift and puts in an extra lift every week. He eats right and lives his life the right way. He has transformed his body," VanDenHul said. "I'm not sure we've ever had anyone put in the time and effort and show the results like Braeden has. And we've had a lot of good ones go through here."
It wasn't just getting in the weight room that transformed Wright. And even though he changed his eating habits, it wasn't a drastic change. He was already eating healthy, he just needed to eat more.
"Our former offensive coordinator had lunch with me and he made sure I ate more. It really helped and went a long way," Wright said.
One of the biggest changes Wright made in his life was with his sleeping habits. He was staying up too late playing video games, which meant he was tired during school.
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While Wright, who is a captain for the Panthers, still plays video games, he knows when to put the controller down now.
"That was a big change. I don't play a ton during the football season because I watch more film," Wright said. "I stop playing at better times. It's a huge change and I've definitely noticed the difference."
Wright may not be an offensive lineman, but he's a key blocker for the Panthers, who are known for their dangerous ground game. Wright takes pride when he sees the running back sprint past him after a good block.
"It's awesome blocking for them and they hit the hole and they are gone," Wright said. "When I pancake someone and there is Eric (Johnson) or Nate (Rice) running 90 yards down the field, it's an exciting feeling."
VanDenHul also splits Wright out because he's athletic and can run a 4.9-second 40.
Wright's biggest value comes on the defensive line for the Panthers, who are 1-1 after knocking off second-ranked Yankton on Friday. Wright may not pile up a lot of tackles or sacks, but he takes up valuable space on the line. Wright is drawing constant double-teams.
"He's not going to light up the stat sheet because he's going to take up blockers for other people," VanDenHul said. "I know the other night toward the end of the night, Yankton had two to three guys on him because they knew he was our biggest pass rush threat and that frees up other guys to make plays."
For Wright, that's just him doing his job. He knows if he takes up blockers, the linebackers will be there to clean up the play.
"It's awesome knowing that you are causing enough issues that they need to double to triple-team you. It gives you a sense of pride," Wright said. "Our defensive coordinator emphasizes that everyone does their job. If you take up the block, the backer gets the tackle for loss and it all works out well.
"Our entire defense has bought into everyone has a job. Everybody trusts every defender every play."
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