Lance Wright is used to dealing with stereotypes. He fields bad jokes like routine ground balls. When he shows up at football events in the lower 48, the questions follow him. Sometimes they're born from curiosity. Sometimes they're born from sarcasm. But they're always around.
"They have football in Alaska?"
"Where's your parka?"
"How many wolves have you killed and eaten? What does whale taste like?"
These days, the ensuing eye roll is instantaneous. "The weirdest thing I've ever eaten actually was either rattlesnake or calf fries, and that was in here in the Midwest," Wright said before warm-ups at last weekend's Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour stop in St. Louis. "So if anybody eats weird stuff ..."
Wright laughs them off, even if they stopped being funny while "The Sopranos" was debuting new episodes. If you're keen on stereotypes, his shoulder-length hair makes him look more like a California-based broheim than an Alaska-based Eskimo. He's neither of those things, of course. For now, Wright is a wide receiver routinely hopping punishingly long flights in the name of exposure. The dream chase is a grind. Last weekend featured an 18-hour journey for a five-hour elite camp.
It's not as though Wright is from Juneau or Anchorage or anything resembling an American city. He calls North Pole, a town of 2,226 people that once reached minus-71 degrees, home. Mention of his hometown brings a whole new set of jokes. It also brings a pile of unusual challenges. Not too many talent evaluators or college coaches take a wrong turn at Santa's workshop and end up on his school's sideline.
"We have some athletes, but nobody really looks up there," Wright said. "Nobody says, 'We need an athlete. Let's look in North Pole, Alaska.' You kind of have to work to get people to notice you. I've gotten letters and stuff, but I haven't had any offers. I mean, there's a lot of Ivy League schools talking to me because of my grades, but there's not really that much exposure right now.
"It depends who you are around, but hockey is bigger than football in Alaska. Soccer is big, too."
Before competing in St. Louis, Wright garnered attention at the U.S. Army National Underclassman Combine in San Antonio. And those events are only the most recent ones. All the travel should pay off eventually. He lists zero scholarship offers as of now, but at a legitimate 6-foot-3, he has the speed to play college football on some level.
This is a scholarship athlete. Of that there seems to be little doubt.
"I think he could easily be a mid-major kid," Rivals.com Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. "He could really help Boise State or a WAC school or something like that. He's a good-sized kid and a real solid all-around player. Watching him ... he was at the Army Combine and he flies down to St. Louis for this camp, the kid is obviously a competitor. Those kinds of guys tend to achieve beyond their potential."
Wright admits it's easy to wonder how his recruitment would be different if his family had stayed in his birth state of Texas. The exposure and coaching that come with playing high school football in that hotbed certainly would have made a difference. But how he ended up in Alaska is part of what makes his story interesting.
In essence, his family is living out a common fantasy. But while most others love to play what-if on the subject, the Wrights actually followed through.
"When I was in kindergarten, we went out to Alaska on a vacation. We liked it, so we just decided to stay there," Wright said. "It just worked out."
Wright isn't content with hoping this football thing will "just work out" as well. There isn't a player in America who has logged more miles in pursuit of a college scholarship. According to Helmholdt, that in itself is enough to make a statement.
"He's solid across the board," Helmholdt said. "But what is going to give him the chance to succeed is his competitive nature and his drive to compete with the best."