Tahj Wright’s future is still uncertain, but on Friday night, he was just happy to be playing the game he loves one last time.
The Ridgeview senior has been a two-way standout for the last three seasons, including two years at Bakersfield High, and has been known for his acrobatic touchdown catches as a wide receiver.
In Friday’s 18th annual U.S. Army All-Star Game at Rabobank Arena, Wright put one final stamp on his star-studded high school career.
Wright caught a leaping touchdown pass in the back of the north end zone, bouncing off the wall and holding on to the pass from Shafter’s Alex Aguilar with two seconds left in the first half.
Later, Wright intercepted a deflected pass at midfield to set up a one-yard TD run by Aguilar in what turned out to be the game-winner for Gold squad in a 20-19 victory.
“It was a great experience to come out here and play with guys that I know and others from other towns around Kern County,” Wright said. “We all came out here and had fun and enjoyed the experience like a family.”
Gold squad head coach Chris Bandy coached against Wright all three years either as a coordinator at Ridgeview and the last two as head coach at Frontier.
This time around, Bandy finally got to be on the same side of the ball as Wright.
“To me, he is a Division I (college) football player, talent-wise,” Bandy said. “He showed that tonight.”
Wright said that he got advice during the weeks leading up to the game to anticipate hitting the wall on close calls on the sidelines or in the back of the end zone.
So when he felt the back of the end zone creeping in, he knew the plan of attack he needed to take.
“They always say that you’re gonna get hit, so might as well use the padded wall,” Wright said.
It appeared the Black squad was going to run away with this one.
The defense stalled the opening drive for the Gold, highlighted by a sack by South’s Joe Jones.
The Black squad got the ball back on a failed fourth-down conversion on its opening series, setting up a short field and a five-yard touchdown by Liberty’s Sam Stewart, Jr.
The Black squad then took a 13-0 lead on a kickoff return by Hunter Riley, another standout for the Patriots.
Gold’s first score came on a short touchdown run by Kern Valley’s Jacob Lightner.
That wasn’t the only highlight of the night for Lightner, who was one of about 70 locals to be sworn in for their upcoming enlistment into the Armed Services. Lightner will enlist in the Army in July.
“This was incredible to be out here and starting my enlisted career like this in front of so many friends and family,” Lightner said. “What a special moment.”
The final score for the Black squad came on a trick play as Centennial’s Kyle Connelly threw a backwards pass to North’s Shannon Ferguson, who then connected with Ridgeview’s Daelin Degraffenreid for the long touchdown pass.
“I love all of these kids,” Black squad coach Christian Johnson said. “They all worked so hard, as did the assistant coaches. This was such a great experience for all of the kids.”