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LOS ANGELES — The schedule, it seemed, should have been unsustainable. It was unfathomable. Once the calendar hits fall, guys simply don’t play college football and work a full-time job at the same time, USC defensive backs coach Donte Williams said, because doing both is a grind. Days swallowed up. Nights eaten away.

Ceyair Wright, though, never complained, Williams said. Just did what he had to do.

Last year, the USC cornerback would shrug off sleep at the crack of dawn to get picked up and shuttled to his side hustle: “the movie times,” as Williams described it. Or, in more formal terms, acting – specifically playing Zeke Bracey on the ABC series “Grown-Ish,” as Wright’s IMDB page proudly displays. The defensive back would come back to campus for a workout, Williams said, then head back out again to finish up on set. All day. All night.

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“His mindset,” Williams said of Wright, “is on 1,000.”

The confidence, perhaps forged in front of lighting diffusers and thousand-dollar cameras, has never wavered. Wright’s teeth have beamed, a Hollywood kid with a Hollywood smile, whenever he’s been asked a question during USC’s fall camp. He’s in a great place mentally, head coach Lincoln Riley said. And indeed – after Williams himself made pointed remarks in 2022 around Wright’s commitment to football, the now-junior said on Aug. 4 he’s “got a better handle” on balancing it with acting.

Well, admittedly, it’s a little easier now. Not really through any intention of his own.

“I think the strike,” Wright said earlier this month, “has actually given me the chance to really focus on football a lot more.”

Outside the walls of the Trojans’ fall camp, actors of all shapes and sizes are picketing the streets daily as part of SAG-AFTRA’s massive strike in support of improved working conditions. No more crack-of-dawn wakeups for Wright, as filming across Hollywood has stalled amid an ongoing labor fight.

And the player that’s emerged in the last few months has perked up heads. Wright’s biggest area of growth throughout his career, Williams said, was “his body truly developing,” and the coach noted Wright’s put on both weight and speed.

It’s made him a standout returner in a fairly young secondary, where he’ll likely get plenty of snaps alongside returning junior Jacobe Covington and Arizona transfer Christian Roland-Wallace, who has made an immediate impression as a Swiss-Army-Knife-type capable of shifting between multiple spots.

“Just his competitiveness is so much different,” Riley said of Wright earlier this month. “He’s just highly motivated, highly competitive, very confident right now. He’s invested in it, and he’s worked hard at it. And it’s what it’s created is, a guy that’s coming out and his performance is there day in and day out.”

Here’s what Wright wants people to understand, though: he’s always been motivated. Always invested. He can do both, and he’s proven he can do both, he feels, ever since playing at Loyola High and seeing his acting career take flight with “Space Jam 2.”

“I think it was just important for me to show that I’m dedicated to football, and that’s something I take very seriously as well as acting. … I committed to this team, so whatever I have to do for this team is what’s going to come first,” Wright said.

But he’s still as much a part of SAG as he is these Trojans, and as the hustle of fall camp ends, Wright said he hopes to have more time to tune into the strike.

“It’s my industry, my union,” Wright said. “So I’m in support of everything that we’re doing.”

“Just want to help whatever terms we’re asking for,” he said with a grin, “get met.”


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