Thursday, April 25, 2013

Robert Woods: Prep Dreams to Pro Realities

I remember the first time I saw Robert Woods play.

Halloween 2008. I was feeling sick and since I didn't want to cover a late game, I drove to St. Bernard's in Playa Del Rey since Serra and St. Bernard played at 5 p.m. I had already seen the LA Times hype Woods up as perhaps the most versatile player in the area and he was only a junior.

It only took a few minutes to see why Woods deserved it.

He caught a tipped pass for a touchdown and nobody was even close. Then he did one of those special plays only he can do. He was back to return a punt and let the ball drop since St. Bernard was close to him. Normally a player lets the other team down it so the offense can take the field but Woods, with his instincts and speed, picked the ball up and raced up-field nearly untouched for another score.

All this was in the first half. After the game, I did my interviews and wrote my feature (above). The best thing I heard was that Woods was as driven as a practice player as much as he was on the field. He was a hard worker and he loved to be exciting.

Flash forward to now. Woods has a great chance to be drafted Thursday in the first round thanks to an All-American career at USC where he leaves the all-time leader in receptions. Over the last five seasons, he has been one of the best players on the field (whether HS and college) and he's made an impact on and off the field.

It's a big deal for me because he, Matt Barkley and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin are some of the first kids that I've seen in high school reach the next level. Rahim Moore currently starts for the Broncos and I saw him do his work briefly at Dorsey alongside Franklin. But those three, I got to see up close.

I saw Serra lose the CIF championship in 2008 to Oaks Christian and I saw in their eyes that they'd be driven to not let that happen again. They met again in the 2009 CIF championship, a game I still call the greatest that I've ever seen.

Woods had two touchdowns - including the game-tying score in regulation - to help Serra win and also an interception. He was just one of many who stood out on both sides. But the best game I saw Woods play came next week at the 2009 state championship.

His total? 8 catches, 180 yards, 2 TD's and had two TD's negated (one by penalty, another when he fumbled at the end zone). That was where he announced that wasn't just the best player in Southern California, but one of the nation's best.

Along with DeAnthony Thomas, Woods is the best HS player I've covered and his speed/strength/size made him look like a man among boys. When I did a feature on him, I was glad to highlight his character as well as his great football/track career.

(One thing that's been overlooked in a lot of Woods' talk is how great he was as a track star. He ran anchor on one of the fastest 4 x 400 relay squads in California history and their 2010 state winning time of 3:08.42 ranks No. 2 in state history/No. 3 in the nation.)

One of his motivations has been his late sister Olivia, who told him to be a role model before she died in 2007. That's why he's been more than just an athlete. That's why one of my young friends - currently a senior soccer player at Serra - told me how often Woods was a mentor to her.

The one thing I've always admired about is his workmanship. He goes to work every game and you can tell that he's prepared as hard as anybody. It didn't surprise when USC named him a starter as a freshman because it's a credit to his intelligence and work ethic. He'll be a bonus to his team not just as a productive WR but as someone of high character.

What he's done the last three years at USC hasn't surprised me. We all saw it so I won't rehash it but I will say that to see him succeed has been amazing. Even though he's had to share time with former HS teammate Marqise Lee, he's shown that he can be a star as well as a supporting teammate. That will suit him well in the NFL.

I'm proud of Woods and I know Serra High School will be too. The entire South Bay was lucky they got to see him shine for 3 years and L.A. was fortunate to see him on display for 3 more. I was happy that I got to see him up close and got to know him as an individual, not just as a player.

But more importantly, we are proud to see a young man conduct himself with class and show kids that being a great person is just as important as being a great athlete.

No comments:

Post a Comment