Mykael Wright’s favorite all-time Duck football player won’t come as a surprise.
“Growing up, I loved De’Anthony Thomas,” the Oregon true freshman said after returning a kickoff 98 yards to push Oregon past Oregon State 24-10 on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. “This is what he did so for me to do it is a blessing.”
Wright picked up his second touchdown on a kickoff return this season to match the two that Thomas (2011) and Jonathan Stewart (2005) had as a true freshman for the single-season record. Thomas has the career record with four.
“My dad knew De’Anthony when he was a young kid, so I was able to watch him play at Oregon and that helped me connect to the school,” said Wright, a native of Antelope Valley, Calif. “I remember a lot of his kickoff returns.”
Wright is stacking up some memorable kickoff returns of his own, including the latest one that came immediately after Oregon State kicked a field goal to tie the game 3-3 late in the first quarter. Wright started up the middle and veered left before straightening out to go untouched into the end zone.
“Credit to the entire kickoff return team, they blocked that one up absolutely perfect,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “Mykael is a guy who when he touches the ball is dangerous because if he beats a guy, he can take it to the house.”
Wright’s touchdown gave the Ducks a lead they would not relinquish and a buffer they would need in a game that was not sealed until the final two minutes.
“I felt like it was one of those plays that changed the game and gave the momentum back to our offense and defense,” Wright said.
Wright has done that a couple times this season, beginning with his first career kickoff return, a 36-yarder in the final minute against Washington State that set up a game-winning drive for the Ducks. The following week, USC closed within 21-17 late in the first half before Wright’s 100-yard kickoff return padded Oregon’s lead at halftime en route to a 56-24 victory.
Wright is making a late push to be the return specialist on the all-Pac-12 team despite a limited number of opportunities. He has two touchdowns and 318 yards on seven returns for an average of 45.4 per return.
“Every time I go out there, the offensive players tell me ‘Mykael, don’t let the offense on the field, go down there and score’,” he said. “I try not to let them back on the field.”
Oregon’s first offensive touchdown was set up by the special teams when Jevon Holland returned a punt 25 yards to give Oregon the ball at the OSU 39-yard line. After an 11-yard run by Travis Dye, Justin Herbert tossed a 28-yard touchdowns pass to Johnny Johnson to stretch the Ducks’ lead to 17-3 early in the second quarter.
The 25-yard return was the longest for Holland since an 81-yarder in the opening game against Auburn.
“It was exciting to get the ball kicked to me, not have it too high and have to fair catch or go away from me and land out of bounds,” Holland said. “I haven’t really been able to return any like that since the Colorado game. It was exciting to get a punt return.”
Holland, who had three returns in the previous five games, also had a 1-yard return against the Beavers, who punted six times.
“He would have had more opportunities but they were so fake heavy on the punt, when certain guys were in the game we had to be completely on point with who is staying in, whose holding up and whose rushing,” Cristobal said. “As the game went on, they were in their fake territory so you compromise a bit of the return game, but when Jevon did get an opportunity he made great decisions.”