WILMINGTON – Joey Wright spent his high school and college football careers surrounded by influential coaches whom, he felt, brought the best out of him.
Now it’ll be his turn as a first-time head coach.
Wright, the former St. Mark’s High and West Chester University quarterback, has been hired as football coach at St. Elizabeth High, the school announced Thursday.
Wright, 31, spent the last three years as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at St. Elizabeth on Joe Aviola’s staff.
For Wright, the urge to coach was born from those high school and college experiences.
“It was always in the back of my mind,” Wright said of wanting to become a coach. “At St. Mark’s having great coaches helped me figure it out sooner rather than later, watching Sib [Lee Sibley] and Harman [Bill Harman] and [John] Wilson coach me and seeing how much fun they had teaching kids. That sort of resonated with me.”
That continued at West Chester under coach Bill Zwaan, the former University of Delaware quarterback, especially because Wright, who had five knee surgeries while at St. Mark’s and West Chester, often had to watch practice because of injuries.
“Being on the sidelines, I was helping coach guys and mentor them,” he said. “It sort of got me in that mindset of wanting to coach, and coach Zwaan helped push me in that direction. I’ve learned so much.”
That education continued, Wright added, working under Aviola, who stepped down after the 2016 season because of the demands of his full-time job at Wilmington University. Last year, Aviola was promoted to director of international student services and community outreach at the university, which has nearly 3,000 international students. The Vikings went 3-7, 4-6 and 4-6 the last three years but saw an increase in the number of players coming out for the team.
Aviola, who had previously been coach at Delaware Military Academy, succeeded Delaware Sports Hall of Famer Joe Hemphill, who guided St. Elizabeth to 237 wins and three state Division II titles (1994, 1996 and 2010) as coach from 1972 through 2013.
Wright had been quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Avon Grove (Pa.) in 2012 and 2013 before joining Aviola’s staff.
At St. Mark’s, Wright was first-team All-State and state offensive player of the year as a senior in 2003, when the Spartans reached their second straight Division I state title game. St. E was a big rival.
“The one great thing about St. Elizabeth is whenever I think about playing them, it was a family,” Wright said. “It was a great community to be a part of. We always battled against them, at St. John’s [in CYM youth football] and St. Mark’s. But going against those kids for so long we became friends. It was very competitive but they were always the toughest team we played. They were hard-nosed, they brought it every time.”
He then went on to star at West Chester, where he was an All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference selection as a junior in 2008 and a senior in 2009.
Wright ranks sixth on West Chester’s all-time total offense list with 6,316 yards and seventh with 6,220 career passing yards. His 59.0 completion percentage in 2008, when West Chester reached the NCAA Division II playoffs, is a single-season school record.
The Vikings graduate several veteran players, including Delaware signee Mickey Henry, a lineman, and standout linebacker/fullback/tight end David Hazelton. But among the returnees will be running back Chris Cropper, who has been drawing recruiting interest from FBS-level colleges. St. Elizabeth will be seeking its first winning season since 2012.
“I’m excited. We’ve got a good group of kids, a lot of talent,” Wright said.
Wright is a physical therapy assistant with ATI, working from its Pike Creek and Downingtown, Pennsylvania, offices. He and his wife Allison are the parents of fraternal twin daughters Autumn and Natalie born last Thanksgiving Day. They live in West Chester.
“He’s been here three years in our system already,” St. Elizabeth athletic director Joe Papili said of Wright. “He understands the kids. He understands what the school’s goal is, not just with the football program but how the football program plays a part in what we want to accomplish with the kids, teaching them to be young adults, getting them ready for life after school. He’s a St. Mark’s grad, had a great career at West Chester, understands the game, so his football knowledge is good and he’ll be a good fit for us.”
Contact Kevin Tresolini at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @kevintresolini.