Corico Wright understood there might be a bit of social discomfort as his teammates and coaches become accustomed to the change, but only the name changed, not the person.
“This is what I know,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Regardless of who’s starting, if he’s starting or not, Corico is going to be a big reason for the type of team we have this year.
“He’s too good a player and he’s a productive player. He’s a smart player.”
As middle linebacker Corico Hawkins, he started 25 of Clemson’s past 28 games and was among the team’s leaders in tackles as a junior. Even after the grooming of freshman Stephone Anthony accelerated last season and cut into his playing time, Hawkins continued to be among the most productive players on defense.
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Changes at home in Milledgeville, Ga., occupied him during the offseason. He had begun to reconnect with his father, Marvin Wright, after a long estrangement. Earlier this year, he legally changed his name from Hawkins to Wright.
“My father and I did not have a great relationship. I reached out to him and worked on that relationship,” he said. “I realized I could not fault him or hate him for the mistakes that were made back between him and my mom. I wanted to carry his name on.”
Even before Swinney fired Kevin Steele and hired Brent Venables as defensive coordinator, Wright knew his role was in flux entering his final season. With players such as Anthony, Tony Steward and Lateek Townsend, tenure was worthless.
“As far as my commitment to my teammates and my commitment to football in general, none of that has changed at all,” said Wright, who was moved from the middle to the weak side, where he’s in a scrap for playing time with Jonathan “Tig” Willard. Anthony and Spencer Shuey are listed 1-2 at middle linebacker.
The notion that he might lose playing time to them doesn’t seem to trouble him.
“These guys here are serious young ballers,” he said. “It’s my last year, and I’m going to have fun. I can’t worry about getting 60 reps or two reps. I just have to make the two reps the best I can put out there.
“We’re a team. If my plays get cut from 60 to 30 and we win a national championship, I’m fine with it. If we win an ACC Championship, I’m fine. If we don’t win, I’m fine. If everybody works, everybody ought to have a piece of the pie. We’re all in it together.”
Venables believes he has a solid two-deep plus at linebacker. The opponent, alignment, down and distance will determine who’s on the field at any point in the game, and he sees Wright being a significant piece.
Marvin Wright has not seen his son play since high school.
“Time heals everything. I was angry. I hated him,” Corico Wright said, “Never had a conversation. Never went by his house. He’s coming to all the home games this year, hopefully. That first one’s really going to be emotional.”