The HHSAA wasn’t the first state to announce that high school football will be pushed back until the spring. Last week, Washington state made the same decision.
Former University of Hawaii running back Leon Wright-Jackson is back home in Pasco, Wash., leading his alma mater’s football program at Pasco High School. When he found out that his third year as the Bulldogs’ head coach was being pushed back to due the pandemic, Wright-Jackson was relieved and thankful.
“I just believe there is no way to do it right now. I was actually happy, because the way we weren’t progressing through the phases,” Wright-Jackson told KHON2’s Alan Hoshida. “It wasn’t looking too bright for us. So I was in my head thinking, if we are going to have a season it has to be pushed back. You have to set up precaution. You have to be safe. You can’t risk it. Yeah, we love our sports, don’t get me wrong. I’m one of the most competitive people out here, but you have to be realistic.”
The 33-year-old took over a Pasco program that was 0-20 the two years prior to his hiring. Despite the rebuild, there have been signs of improvement. Last season, Wright-Jackson led the program to its best record (3-7) since 2014, including an upset win over conference power Richland High School.
Wright-Jackson remembers the glory days of Pasco Football, as he was on the last team to win the school’s last of three state titles back in 2003. He rushed for an incredible 1,806 yards and 32 touchdowns as a junior.
Beyond football, Wright-Jackson understands he’s a leader of young men, so he preaches a fundamental lesson he learned in his time in Hawaii.
“All love, that’s it. Love conquers all. I truly believe that,” he said. “Shoot, we don’t have to win another game but if the boys can take away what did you learn from Coach Jackson is love and care and move forward for the better, then that’s the way.”
When Hawaii is mentioned to Wright-Jackson, he lights up. It’s easy to see the impact the islands had on him both on and off the field. In three seasons with the ‘Bows, he rushed for 875 yards and 10 touchdowns. His best game came against Utah State in 2009 when he racked up 167 yards on the ground and scored three touchdowns.
“When I was in Hawaii, I learned to love the game of football. I have been watching. I’m not going to lie,” he said. “During this pandemic, I’ve had time to watch, sit back and watch a few reruns of those games. I do smile. It’s like we had something special; we have something special. I don’t think we’ll ever lose that ’til we go home.”
Hawaii is known to steal visitors’ hearts, leaving a lasting impression for an entire lifetime. It’s been over a decade since Wright Jackson has been back, but he sees a beautiful reminder of his time in Manoa every single day.
“A little emotional. I definitely miss the place,” he said. “It’s a part of me that gave me growth in my life, so I definitely need to figure out a time to get back. I know my daughter is like ‘dad, I was born in Hawaii. When are we going back?’ So I have to find some time.
“She enjoys it. When she’s in class at elementary school and you share where you’re from, where you were born, she gets to be that kid — ‘I was born in Hawaii,’ with a giant smile on her face. I want her to live it. I want to take her there so she can really see the ‘Aloha’.