The future generation of Shore Conference football players gathered around, trying not to gawk at the giant piece of glistening jewelry on Tim Wright’s left hand that symbolizes professional football’s biggest achievement.

It wasn’t too long ago Wright was on a field just like this as a camp attendee, dreaming of a day when he might possibly play in the National Football League and win a Super Bowl, a common goal but an unlikely reality.

Yet there Wright was on Friday, hosting what he hopes is the first of many Friday Night Lights football camps presented by his Wright Way Academy, as an NFL player and a Super Bowl champion after winning it all with the New England Patriots last season.

“It really is a dream come true,” Wright said during the six-hour camp on June 26 at Wall Municipal Complex. “It’s something I have been working hard for my whole life. Just thinking back to when I was in Pop Warner starting off when I was seven years old to be standing on this field today giving back to the kids that now look up to me as a role model and as a star in the NFL is amazing.”

“And even to have this ring on my finger today is an amazing sight.”

Photo by Bob Badders

In between directing various drills alongside some former teammates and current NFL players that included Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, Wright was shaking hands and reminiscing with former teammates and coaches from Wall, where he starred as a wide receiver and running back. The now 6-foot-4, 235-pound tight end was recruited as a wide receiver and went on to play at Rutgers where he finished his career with 50 receptions for 596 yards and four touchdowns while receiving multiple academic awards.

Everything changed for Wright when he got a call from the man who recruited him and coached him for his first two years at Rutgers, Greg Schiano.

Schiano was hired as a head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012 and signed Wright as a undrafted free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft. But there was one caveat: Wright would have to make the team as a tight end.

“Coach Schiano switched my position right before camp my rookie year and I locked in and focused because I knew I had a bigger challenge ahead of me,” Wright said. “Sometimes people get comfortable in the state they’re in, and I was playing receiver my whole life and knew everything in the book about it.”

“Switching to tight end was a new challenge for me. I had to put on weight and learn a new position, and it was something I really dedicated all my time to. It opened up my eyes to know this is how to be a professional.”

Wright not only made the team, he turned in a historic season. Wright played in all 16 games during the 2013 season and finished with 54 receptions for 571 yards and five touchdowns. He was the only rookie tight end to amass more than 500 receiving yards that year, and his yards and touchdowns totals are still the most by an undrafted rookie tight end in NFL history.

Wright had no choice but to produce. Even though he had the backing of Schiano, the NFL doesn’t give many second chances to undrafted rookies. He wasn’t a first-day pick the team had a lot of money invested in, so it would have been easy to cut him if he didn’t perform up to expectations.

“There was definitely some pressure dealing with that - being a rookie, undrafted, in the NFL with a position switch - but I just took everything I learned growing up, even off the field, and applied that to what I needed to do and I got the job done.”

After proving himself as a rookie, Wright was surprised to learn late in camp during the 2014 preseason he had been traded. His numbers from his first season had made him a valued chip the Buccaneers used to acquire All-Pro guard Logan Mankins from the Patriots. Wright was moving on, but he was also going to New England where he would play with future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and have a chance to win big.

“When I got the news right away I thought about the opportunity up there and how to make my mark on another team,” Wright said. “At Rutgers I had five different offenses in my time there and I had to adjust on the fly and learn those things, and this was something that fit that same category.”

Wright was not brought in to be the starter in New England with All-Pro Rob Gronkowski returning from major knee surgery, but he was certainly an insurance policy. He finished the season with 26 catches for 259 yards, but emerged as a key red zone option for Brady and caught six touchdowns. He had three big games, including having five catches for 36 yards and a career-high two touchdowns in his only start of the season, a 34-9 win over Lions. He had a season-high 85 yards and a touchdown in a 43-17 win over Bengals and hauled in a season-best seven passes for 61 yards and a touchdown in a 51-23 wipeout of the Bears.

The Patriots would go on to win Super Bowl XLIX 28-24 over Seattle for the franchise’s fourth title, all since 2001. Wright played in the game but did not record a catch, but was nonetheless a Super Bowl champion.

The Patriots released Wright earlier this month on June 11, and it didn’t take long for him to land back on his feet in a familiar place. Pro Football Talk reported that up to 10 teams were interested in signing Wright, and it was the Buccaneers who had waiver priority. They snatched him up the very next day, brining him back to the place his NFL career began three years ago.

“Once I heard I was going back to Tampa it was like ‘Wow’,” Wright said. “I have built relationships down there and there is a fan base that really loved what I did there as a rookie.”

He will join a receiving corps that features towering wide outs Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, and will compete for the starting tight end job with Tampa’s first round pick last season, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and veteran Brandon Myers. The team will have a lot of eyes following it this year despite coming off a 2-14 season, however, with No. 1 pick Jameis Winston expected to start the season at quarterback. Add in a healthy Doug Martin, a Pro-Bowl running back in 2012, and the Bucs could be in store for a major turnaround in head coach Lovie Smith’s second season.

“We have a lot of weapons and a lot of guys that can do great things for this offense and for the organization as a whole, so I’m excited for what we have in store going into camp and the season.”

It will be back to business soon for Wright as he tries to help Tampa rebound while continuing to find personal success as an NFL tight end. He longer has to remind himself he has made it at the game’s highest level, but being back home where it all began did remind him of what it took to realize his dreams.

“You can never forget where you came from,” Wright said.  “These are all the people that helped raise me to be the person I am today, and I’m very thankful and grateful to come back and give something back to the kids. It’s something I want to continue doing every single year.”