High School Football

He was a star player for Pasco. Now he’s working to rebuild Bulldogs football

He’s a new coach but a familiar face to Pasco football fans

Pasco's football ready to begin a long journey with a new coach.
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Pasco's football ready to begin a long journey with a new coach.

Leon Wright-Jackson knows he has a big task ahead of him in turning around the Pasco High School football team.

He knew that when he took the job in February. He knows it won’t happen overnight. But he’s confident the 80 kids he has in his program are willing to give it their best effort in a very strong Mid-Columbia Conference.

“They are excited, and they know the expectations are high,” said Wright-Jackson, a star running back for Pasco in the early 2000s and a member of the 2003 state championship team. “We are not practicing like an 0-10 Pasco program. We are pushing them a little more than they thought. We have a lot of kids who came back, and others who came back after sitting out a year.

“We are one of the largest high schools in the state. We have to have some kids.”

The Bulldogs have 12 seniors on the field, including two-way lineman Davion Pruitt, who also is one of the top heavyweight wrestlers in the MCC.

“He understands what we are trying to do, and he’s trying to lead any way he can,” Wright-Jackson said of the 6-foot-3, 295-pound Pruitt. “They have been working very hard — nose to the grindstone trying to get better every day. I surrounded myself with a great group of guys to try and rebuild a once-proud program. We know we are skating uphill.”

The struggle is real

Having grown up in Pasco, Wright-Jackson, 32, understands the current challenges that face Pasco High, and hopes to relate to the student population.

“There are always struggles,” he said. “We are committed to the boys. They are learning to be accountable and reliable. The numbers have not depleted, they have picked up. They are battling and bringing some energy. They put in a lot of work during the summer, doing things they have never done and making them mentally tougher. Time will tell.”

Pasco High School football coach Leon Wright-Jackson observes his team during a recent practice. Wright-Jackson is a former Bulldog running back who played on the 2003 state championship team. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

The Bulldogs have won just three games over the past five years, and have posted back-to-back 0-10 records the past two seasons. Pasco has lost 25 consecutive games since its last win in 2015, and has not been to the playoffs since 2008, the year before cross-town rival Chiawana opened its doors.

The lack of wins on the field also has affected the team’s stature in the community, which Wright-Jackson hopes to change. He played before standing-room only crowds at Edgar Browns Stadium, and he would like his players to experience that feeling.

“The support has been dormant,” he said. “We have to come back and give back to our community. The boys have been out there helping with youth programs and other things. They will see success not only on the field, but in life.”

X’s and O’s

Wright-Jackson said he hopes to run a balanced offense, and will come out in a wishbone formation, providing the plan comes together.

While he fully admits he doesn’t have the biggest or most experienced offensive and defensive lines, he does like what he sees from running backs Noah Gonzalez and Avery Burrows, who take over for Efrain Farias and his 700-yard senior season.

There is healthy competition at quarterback, where senior Emilio Davila is looking to beat out junior Kekoa Nery and sophomore Armani Reyes.

“They are battling to try and lead the offense,” Wright-Jackson said.

The Wright-Jackson stuff

If the Pasco players doubt that Wright-Jackson knows his stuff, they need to brush up on their school history.

Wright-Jackson was a four-year letter winner at Pasco, running for 4,929 yards over the course of his career. He rushed for 1,745 yards on 127 carries and scored 23 touchdowns his senior year.

He went on to play one season at Nebraska and three at Hawaii, where he had 875 career yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 43 passes for 343 yards.

The past two seasons, Wright-Jackson had been an assistant for Brett Jay at Hanford High School.

Annie Fowler: 582-1574; @tchicequeen