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Paul Wright Is Receiving His Higher Education . . . Socker Style

October 03, 1987|MARC APPLEMAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Paul Wright is doing a balancing act between headers and homework.

The former Grossmont High and San Diego Nomad soccer star takes English and speech classes from 7 to 9:30 in the morning at Grossmont College. At 10 a.m. and again at 2 p.m., Wright, 18, takes part in two-hour practices with the Sockers. In the late afternoon, he does his homework before eating dinner with his mother and seeing his girlfriend. On weekends, he goes to parties with his college friends, who can hardly believe that their classmate is a Socker.

Such is the life of an unusual student/athlete.

"I kind of like the two different environments," said Wright, the Sockers' second-round selection in the 1987 Major Indoor Soccer League draft. "But it's an adjustment."

With the Sockers, Wright will work out with the first team on a daily basis, and, according to assistant coach Johan Aarnio, will get a lot of playing time.

Wright and Rene Ortiz, a former Southwest High star who is attending Southwestern College, have signed amateur contracts with the Sockers. Under this arrangement, the team pays for four years of college for each player and gives each a stipend of approximately $1,000 a month.

"It's like giving them a scholarship," said Bob Bell, the Sockers' co-managing general partner. "But they play for us instead of their school teams. We found that in the past, the problem was a lot of players were behind the times after playing four years of college (outdoor) soccer."

Wright had accepted a soccer scholarship to Cal State Fullerton when the Sockers drafted him last June.

"It was a surprise," Wright said. "I planned on taking the same route everyone else does. But with no professional outdoor league, sooner or later, you'll have to play indoor. So I might as well go for it now."

So Wright will be playing with such veteran stars as Juli Veee and Jean Willrich.

"I've thought about that already," Wright said. "They (the Sockers) have confidence in me. I think they know what they're doing. I thought about it for a while. 'Why me?' But I have a lot of confidence in my ability."

So do the Sockers.

"He was one of the top, if not the top high school player in San Diego last year," Aarnio said.

In two seasons at Grossmont, Wright scored 75 goals to place eighth on the all-time San Diego Section scoring list.

"He has tremendous ability to beat opponents and score goals," Aarnio said. "He's very, very fast. As a young player, he's showed a lot of sophistication in his game in terms of skills."

Wright began playing soccer at an early age. He has been kicking a ball since he was 8 and living in the Queens Park area of London.

"I remember playing in the rain and freezing my butt off," Wright said.

Wright lives with his mother, Sonia, who was separated from her husband when Paul was 3. They moved to Modesto when he was 11 and to San Diego two years ago. Sonia is a secretary for the English department at San Diego State. Wright has always been close to her and plans to give her part of his monthly stipend.

Wright, who is 5-feet 8-inches tall and weighs 145 pounds, relaxes by playing basketball and briefly ran track during his junior year at Grossmont, but soccer is where he excels.

Dick Bullock, the Grossmont soccer coach, is impressed with Wright's agility and acrobatic feats.

"He's a gymnast in some of his moves," Bullock said. "When he sets his mind to it, he makes things happen. If Paul got excited, the other guys got excited."

But there were times when Bullock felt Wright had more to give than he was giving.

"High school soccer is not that much competition," Wright said. "It was sort of easy."

Wright's first real challenge in the sport came when he played for the under-19 division of the Nomads two years ago and with the Nomads of the Western Alliance League last summer.

"That was a great experience," Wright said. "I really developed as a player. The level of competition was a lot higher. I had to raise my level of play."

In an exhibition match played in San Diego last summer against Hearts--a first-division team from Scotland--Wright scored a hat trick in a 4-4 tie. Two of the goals came on breakaways on which Wright displayed the speed and dribbling ability that he hopes will enable him to make a swift transition to the indoor game.

Before training camp began with the Sockers this week, Wright's previous indoor experience consisted of playing for the amateur San Diego Hotspurs, who have since become the San Diego Stars. This week, he has played with the Socker reserves and free agents.

"It's a learning experience," said Wright, who suffered a scalp laceration in Wednesday's practice that required two stitches. "I haven't been playing on top of my game. It takes a little adjustment and time to develop."

Time to develop as a college freshman and a Socker.

Socker Note The Sockers will play San Diego State in an outdoor exhibition match at 7:30 tonight in the Aztec Bowl.

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