With his mind and body always running, Purdue's Terry Wright hopes his NFL Draft dream comes true
Wright has battled ADHD all of his life, and he hopes that fight continues on an NFL gridiron
Terry Wright had to leave the room. This drew attention in the middle of Purdue's annual team banquet last December not only because of the timing but because of the reason.
"My legs started twitching a little bit," Purdue's senior receiver recalled.
"He couldn't really stand still," his mom, his rock, his everything said.
"Are you OK?" Teri Dockery gently asked her son.
"Momma, I know what's going on," Wright assured her.
They both knew what was going on. Wright was off to the restroom. But not for the usual reason. For starters, it was quiet there.
"It took a few minutes," Dockery said. "He was fine. I texted him. He had to calm himself down a little bit."
Wright can't explain why the feeling came over him or why he has swam upstream against it for most of his 22 years. Sometimes, it turns out, his brain just needs a rest.
More of a rests than you or I may need after a stressful day.
Experts say that 10 percent of children have some form of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); Wright is among them. A third of those will carry ADHD into adulthood.
We've all known kids labeled "hyper." They can't concentrate. They'll get up and walk around, disrupting class. They are, for the most part, pure energy. It's just a matter of controlling those impulses.
That is where Terry Wright is this weekend of the NFL Draft. Whether teams value him or not -- Wright is projected as a low-round pick or undrafted free agent signee -- they should know players like him.
"When I'm not moving, that's where the problem is."Terry Wright
There are scores of ADHD sufferers scattered throughout society and the NFL, hiding in plain sight. Some are diagnosed, some are not.
But in a league that employs domestic and substance abusers with regularity, a sweet, talkative kid with 4.3 track speed and sticky fingers shouldn't be given too much of a red flag for this.
"That is part of his disability," said Loren Smith, Wright's middle school basketball coach. "Once he makes it to the next level or wherever he goes to play, [they should know] he's a bright kid. He'll probably be one of those people who needs an assistant. I've seen that in professional sports. When people have ADHD, they have a whole lot of things going on in their head."
Again, more than the rest of us. By now, the United States is more than familiar with ADHD. It was first mentioned by a British pediatrician in 1902. It wasn't until the 1960s that the American Psychiatric Association recognized ADHD as a mental disorder.
Wright was diagnosed with his form of ADHD at age 9 in his native Memphis. It remains with him today has he heads to graduation next month.
That explains Wright's actions that December 2018 night at the Purdue banquet. That also explains why Wright can't stop explaining that night.
"I don't know if this is everybody, but there are moments in life where every human has this one moment, has this burst of energy and doesn't know what to do with it," he began. "It could be any moment, and you get a burst of energy. You can be up or half asleep or 4 a.m. in the morning, you wonder why.
"I don't know why, but I usually get these feelings a lot. It helps me stay up in class. I felt a whole of energy coming to me at the banquet. … I just needed to go walk around a little bit. Sometimes I get a burst of energy to move around to scream a little bit to get that out of my system, if I don't get it out of my system, there's going be energy all day."
And you don't want to see energy all day. Ask his mother, his family, his coaches. Ask his new employers after this weekend.
"I wonder about all the people in the NFL that have this and will never tell a person," Dockery said. "I'm telling you how many days I could have lost my damn mind."
Teri Dockery was 14 when she had Anthony. Little brother Terry arrived exactly 1 year and 11 days later.
"We didn't come from a family that was poor," she said. "My mother was one of the first policewomen in Memphis. My father worked for the railroad. I lost my best friend in a car crash. What I was looking for in life wasn't there. My parents didn't cut me any slack. If you had children out of wedlock, you married the person."
Terry was 6 the last time his father could see him. Anthony Wright Sr. has diabetes and eventually went blind. He's in a nursing home now.
"He remembers what a field looks like," Terry Wright said. "He remembers juke moves. He remembers spin moves. The only thing he needs is a commentator. The commentator tells him everything he needs to know. My dad wasn't able to see me play a football game, ever. Every game he'd try to come to watch and listen. It always made me emotional."
Anthony Sr. did attend his son's last game -- the Music City Bowl in Nashville, a short drive from Memphis. The Boilermakers lost by seven touchdowns to Auburn. Terry didn't catch a pass.
"I looked up in the crowd and said, 'This is my dad. Whatever happens, happens. Regardless if he can see or not,'" Wright recalled. "'He's looking through God's eyes right now.'"
The payoff came later. Terry removed the last Purdue jersey he would ever wear and put it on his wheelchair-bound dad.
But dad wasn't around when the ADHD began to manifest itself and the decision was made to have Wright tested.
"They said, 'There is something that is a little different here,'" Dockery recalled. "With computers, Terry was a genius. Anything with a book and pencil, it was as if I was pulling teeth."
That can be problem in any school, much less in the formative years of elementary school. Maybe it was this generation of kids who grow up on screens. Maybe it was the ADHD.
Little Terry told his mom: "When I pick up a book, it becomes boring. The letters and words are running off the page."
So accommodations were made. Wright worked on computers, tested on computers, played on computers. Just touching a mouse calmed him.
Dockery called her sister, Julie, an English professor at City Colleges of Chicago, for support. To raise Terry, it was going to take a village.
"I don't look at it as something that's serious," Julie said. "ADHD is sometimes lumped into someone with autism. … You have this student who is making noises, but they're brilliant. I've had that before. Hyperactivity and impulsivity, in many ways, is kind of normal."
On the down side, ADHD can mean an increased risk of substance abuse, poor academic achievement and low esteem.
On the up side, the condition can be managed. Famous folks like Michael Phelps, Justin Timberlake and Adam Levine live with ADHD. It mostly a genetic condition. If diagnosed right, it can be controlled with drugs.
That's where Dockery and her son drew the line. At one point in his childhood, Wright was on Adderall and Dexedrine. He was seeing spots, hallucinating.
"He was very lethargic. He would lie his head down. He wasn't interested," Smith said. "It changed who he was completely and totally. He wasn't pleasant anymore. He got into a little bit of trouble."
Mother and son made the decision to take Wright off the medication. Together, they stepped out on a plank staring at an abyss. ADHD might be normal and manageable, but what were the tools now? If not drugs, then Wright would be treated holistically. Dockery put him on an organic, super food diet.
"We're talking about a child who was a normal child," Dockery said, "… but he went to eating spinach, eating greens, eating kale."
When Wright was about 11, his mom worked at a local YMCA. He took up yoga with the locals after school. Downward Dog and Cobra were his favorite poses. That soothed his mind, too.
"Once he learned how to calm his breathing and calm himself, he learned he could control the energy," Dockery said. "Is he still hyper to this day? Yes. Can his attention span still kind of get a little bit beyond himself? Yes it can. What I experienced was we had a lot of the same traits. I actually learned later in the year I was the same way."
That might be why there are no short phone calls with Dockery and her son. They go into detail on the most esoteric things. Dockery runs a non-profit and recently graduated from the University of Memphis with a psychology degree.
Football barely comes up when Wright recalls his yoga instructor working with him and all those senior citizens.
Or a side discussion down this rabbit hole: Did you know Wright was recently baptized by Purdue's director of football player development in a pool in the team's training room?
"I felt like I was ready to get baptized to become more spiritual, have more faith and put all trust in God," Wright said.
It was about the time of middle school that Smith entered Wright's life. In addition to being his basketball coach, Smith is a senior reading advisor and literary coach for Shelby County schools.
"Whenever he got in trouble, his teachers would send him to my room," Smith said. "I made him run [in practice]. Most students hate running. Terry would run as long as I had him."
Smith realized that energy would always be there. Focusing that energy became the key.
"He was high energy on the basketball court, a lock-down defender," Smith said. "He was the guy I could count on to score baskets when the other team was tired.
"You have to talk to him in bite-sized pieces. Children with ADHD, you can't give them too much at once. They check out."
At White Station High School in Memphis, Wright became a top 25 player in the state of Tennessee. As a slot receiver playing in Roland Williams' offense, he got a lot of jet sweeps. Yes, you can say there was energy release into that, too.
"Me and him had that father-son relationship," Williams said. "Teri would come up to me and say, 'Kick his ass. I don't care what he's doing.' I was saying to myself, 'I'm not going to kick his ass.' But when I gave him that look, he knew what time it was. All I had to do is give him those eyes."
Wright was like a puppy who couldn't please enough. As a non-qualifier, he took the junior college route to Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. In his second and final season in 2016, he posted 800 receiving yards and averaged almost 30 yards per kickoff return.
If you squint, you might have seen him in Netflix's "Last Chance U" helping beat Independence Community College in 2015, 79-21.
Wright matter-of-factly described how he went from a 1.9 GPA in high school to a 2.5 as a senior. That improved, he said, to a 3.0 his first year at Coffeyville.
It might have been the perfect place for a kid who needed to calm down. Coffeyville is in southeastern Kansas, a couple of miles from the Oklahoma state line and otherwise in the middle of nowhere.
His coach, Aaron Flores, was fighting a lung condition so severe at the time that he a double lung transplant in March 2018.
There were other issues.
"We had a few conversations," Flores said. "I'd say, 'All right, Terry, we're going to call mom.' She wouldn't mind getting into him."
"I never took my hand off the situation," Dockery said.
At Purdue, Wright was always the receiver about to break out. In two seasons, he caught 29, then 28 passes. Against Iowa last season, he posted career highs in yards (146) and touchdowns (three).
Remember how running soothed him? Wright was always running. At White Station, he has the school's third-best 100-meter time in history. At Coffeyville, he was a national qualifier in the 60 meters.
"At his best, he is the most explosive off the line of scrimmage that I've seen," said Purdue wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard.
Wright's 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame makes him a natural at slot receiver. That seemed to be validated when 49ers assistant Wes Welker interviewed Wright.
Did one of the best slot receivers in NFL history know about the ADHD? Does it matter? Shepard is Wright's latest advocate. He understands learning specialists as much as out routes. Shepard understands Wright's needs as well as his mother's involvement.
"One of the most genuine people I've had a chance to be around," Shepard said. "She's the type of person who will do anything at all costs for her son."
But Wright has been late for meetings. He was left off the traveling squad as a junior for the Wisconsin game. Last season, Wright didn't start that Iowa game because he was 2 minutes late for a class.
You wonder if this is just another 20-something lacking focus.
"On the field, when I'm moving and active, there's no problem," Wright said.
Or is this an old nemesis, one that America knows well, one that Wright still struggles to control?
"When I'm not moving, that's where the problem is," he said. "… Sometimes in a meeting, I find myself drifting. … [I'll] just look up and just start daydreaming."
Wright hopes at least one of those dreams comes true this weekend.
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