Photo by Gary W. Green / Getty Images

Throughout Gators football history, there have been many players and coaches who have left their mark. Steve Spurrier, Jack Youngblood, Emmitt Smith, and many others played a role in building the foundations that have allowed the Florida Gators football program to become what it is today. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is adorned with the names and — in a few cases — statues of those who have made “all for the Gators” stand up and holler. And yet, there are others who have left their mark in ways that have become permanently etched in our minds.

For example, I will never forget the way I felt when I saw — and heard — Major Wright deliver a bone-shattering blow to Oklahoma’s Manny Johnson in the early goings of the Gators’ last BCS National Championship. For that matter, I’m guessing Manny hasn’t forgotten that hit either. Major will always be remembered by the Gators’ faithful as a leader and a heavy hitter on the field. Although he may not be leaving his mark on the football field any longer, Major’s story is far from over.

Photo by Doug Benc / Getty Images

I had the pleasure of catching up with Major recently, in a phone interview to discuss how the last decade has shaped his life and given him a new direction. After leaving UF, Major went on to spend seven seasons in the NFL and gives credit to the way that Urban Meyer ran his program for preparing him for the rigors of professional football.

“I think Urban Meyer was a disciplined coach. I knew how to act because our system is run like an NFL system. So I already was prepared for it because I was preparing for it through college,” he said.

Although they’ve lost touch over the years, it is clear that Wright holds his former coach in high esteem. Major continued to credit Urban Meyer for the success of his programs and the players that he has developed. Despite being often criticized by fans, Meyer’s leadership has been pivotal in preparing many players, like Major, for a career in the NFL.

“Urban Meyer has done a great job. He’s done a great job with our group and the guys he was with. I think he’s got to go down as one of the greatest coaches because honestly, everywhere he goes, man, he strikes. He strikes! So obviously, something that he’s doing is right.”

However, things in life don’t always go as planned and regardless of how well Urban’s program was able to prepare Major for the NFL, injuries and team interest became a factor. Coming to the realization that his career in football would soon be through, Major struggled with depression and understanding who he was outside of the game that he had devoted his life to.

“That was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve been through,” Major stated. “That was my biggest obstacle that I’ve faced in life. Just that transition part, because I’ve been doing one thing so long in my life and it’s all I know.”

Like many gifted athletes, Major devoted himself entirely to perfecting his craft. His entire plan centered around being able to play football in the NFL. Though he did the work that was required of him in class, he didn’t truly see the value in his education at that time.

“I wasn’t the athlete that took school to heart,” he explained. “But I went in there and did what I had to do to pass. But I didn’t take any of that and use any of that while I was playing football. So I never learned the things that I needed to learn. The basic stuff like money management, investments, things like that… learning how to run your own company, I never learned any of that stuff. It’s on me, obviously, to learn those things along the way but I just took those for granted. So when I got done I just was lost. I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know anything. So I was just in a really bad space.”

Although things seemed bleak, Major refused to stay down. It would have been really easy to allow his situation to defeat him but he knew that this was not where his story ended. I asked him if there was anybody that helped him to get back on his feet and find his new direction and although he didn’t credit any one person, he was quick to point out the importance of the company we keep.

“Man, hang around what I want to be like! You know? Hang around good, positive people. Hang around somebody that you say, ‘Hey, man, I could see myself going that route.’ Somebody that, you know, when you walk in the room, you know they’re in the room. It’s just that aura.”

Major continued to explain how the people he spent time with influenced his path, saying, “Hanging around that type of positive energy kind of made me start looking at myself like, ‘You know, Major, listen put yourself together. You’re bigger and better than just playing this sport. You’ve got much more life to live. Find who you are and let’s go with it.’ You know, so I just started asking myself, ‘What am I going to be good at? What can I do, other than football?’ I said, ‘I love people so let’s find something for people. Let’s find something where I can continue to give back to people.'”

It was through this process of self-exploration and positivity that Major realized that his true passion is helping others. However, it wasn’t until a conversation in January of 2019 that Wright decided that the best way to begin helping others was to write a book. By sharing his own story, Major felt that he could inspire others who are facing obstacles in their own lives.

“I was on the phone with my ex-girlfriend… having a great conversation, inspiring each other. She has a consulting company and you know, she was just uplifting me and I was uplifting her, sharing our goals that we want to reach and all this. So in the middle of our conversation, she just stopped and she’s just like, ‘Major, I think you should write a book.’ and I’m like… I paused for a second and it clicked because, at the time, I was reading 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John C. Maxwell. In the book, he said along the lines of, ‘If you want to do something, act on it now. Don’t wait because it’ll never happen.’ So I took that moment to react on [sic] it and just, you know, ‘Let’s see [if] it works.’ So I told her, ‘Okay. You know what? I’m going to write a book!.'”

With his newfound ambition and blue-collar work ethic, Major wasted no time getting to work. As soon as their conversation ended, he began writing his book. Starting small, Major outlined what each chapter would be about. From there, he began to eke out the first few pages and before he knew it, he had the tangible beginnings of his efforts. However, writing a book is not easy and Major had to really rely on the self discipline that he exhibited throughout his football career.

“At one moment, I hit a little period where I’m just like, ‘[sighs] I don’t want to…’ You know what? I got discouraged. ‘I don’t want to do this,'” his candor at this moment was very relatable, as was the perseverance that he described next. “But then, I get back motivated. You know, I started back [to writing]… and then just started wanting more. So I just started going back at it and knocked it all out.”

The driving force, the reason that Major was so passionate about completing this book, was his genuine love for people. He wants to motivate and inspire the world to be the best that they can be but to understand that it’s never just going to be easy. If you want something, you have to work for it. If you get knocked down, you must get back up and try again. This is the central idea of his book, Major Pain: Confessions of a Smash Mouth Safety, which will be released on his birthday, July 1st of this year.

As soon as the nation begins to reopen, Major will embark on a book tour where he hopes to engage with the public once again. In addition, he would like to have the book turned into a feature film. Just for fun, I asked him who would play him in the movie.

“That’s tough. [Laughs] Honestly, that is so tough! I don’t know because it’s like… I feel like it’s got to be somebody who’s going to go out there and lay it all on the line.”

As we continued our conversation, I was able to ask what his opinion of the direction of the program is. Major responded quickly.

“I love it! Me and Joe Haden [were] just on Live, today… Instagram Live and the whole morale around that… it’s crazy. It’s crazy. I love Dan Mullen. I love the energy he’s bringing around. It’s unmatchable. It’s unimaginable. It’s crazy because… I love it. Like as soon as you walk on the campus, you walk in that locker room, it’s a whole totally different energy. That’s what we need. You know? As fans, as students, as players, that’s what you need. Like you need that and that’s it. Two back-to-back winning seasons, you know, I think this is the year. I love it.”

Major has a unique perspective, having been in the program during Mullen’s first stop in Gainesville. Getting to square off against a Dan Mullen offense every day in practice, allowed him to see how Mullen’s energy impacts his players. Likewise, that exposure gives Major an insight into how that energy is different from what other coaches have brought to the program since Mullen’s departure in 2009.

“He’s a player’s coach and with him being a player’s coach, [there’s] nothing that the players won’t do for him. If he goes out there and tells these kids to run through a wall, they’re going to go run through that wall. They’re going to find a way to run through that wall, and that’s what you need in these types of programs. You need that type of coach because you need these players to buy into that system. Because if they never buy into that system, you will never know the worth of it. You will never know the worth of that system.”

A major part of that change in the energy and culture of the program has been the welcoming of former players into the program. Previous coaches have kept past Gators players at bay when it came to interacting with the team but Mullen and his staff have been very accommodating and have even encouraged former players to be present.

“Man, it’s so welcoming. This is the most welcoming it’s been. It’s no problem for me to come back. It’s no problem at all. It’s all love. They treat us just like we’re family and that’s how it needs to be done. That’s what we need. We need that energy. We need all that around because, at the end of the day, the former players do help get recruits in. There’s guys who are saying, ‘Oh man, I can go be just like Joe Haden. I can be just like Tim Tebow. I can go be just like these other guys… Brandon Spikes. You know what I’m saying? That’s a part of recruiting.”

During his time at Florida, Major Wright was a part of one of the most prolific defenses in program history. He amassed 165 tackles, 8 interceptions, and a national championship during his collegiate career. Throughout that time, he exemplified what it means to be a Gator and continues to make Gator Nation proud to this day.

Major Pain: Confessions of a Smash Mouth Safety will hit shelves on July 1st, 2020 but pre-sales have already opened up. Be sure to check out this link to pre-order your copy. You’ll be supporting a Gators great and may be inspired to make a mark of your own.

*On Friday, May 8, 2020, ChompTalk’s Michael Pfeffer and Brian Fox conducted a phone interview with Florida great Major Wright