WVU football: Woods confident, feels comfortable in offense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Tuesday was the first day freshmen who enrolled in the summer were allowed to speak to the media at West Virginia University.
They poured into the team's meeting room inside the Puskar Center. The receivers were the most popular. Many expected they would come in and earn playing time, if even at the expense of some veterans.
So far, though, it hasn't happened, which is why J.D. Woods, a senior who just won't go away, no matter how many challengers make a move, sat surrounded by reporters who wanted to know how he was again in position to start.
"I was never worried about my spot. Not one bit," he said. "I always thought I could be the one who would play when needed."
Woods discusses all of this with a nonchalance that makes a trying time sound so easy, but he's been through this all before. Last year it was Ivan McCartney making a play for one of the team's two outside positions, but Woods was the starter by the end of the regular season.
In the spring, Woods was inside, where it seemed freshman Jordan Thompson would one day take over the starting spot.
That seems to have happened already, but Woods is back outside above McCartney and Ryan Nehlen.
"We need him," second-year WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said.
And yet to hear Holgorsen tell it, the Mountaineers almost didn't have him. Holgorsen said Woods had been relegated to the scout team recently because he was "one of those guys" the coaching staff had academic worries about for the upcoming season.
Woods called it only "personal reasons," but acknowledged, like his coach said, that he came to life late last week.
"I was very determined to go back out there and make plays and work my way back," Woods said. "I continue to strive to be the best I can be, so when Coach Holgorsen called my name, I knew it was time to go in and make plays."
Woods hasn't played a lot, getting into 26 games in three seasons, and he has averaged one reception per game, including none as a redshirt freshman in 2009. What he lacks in playing time and statistics he more than makes up for in self-esteem.
He is where he is not because of gaudy numbers or an irresistible reputation, but rather because he acts like he belongs.
"Nothing can break a confident man," he said. "Confidence is something I pride myself on."
Somewhere along the way, Woods saw the way things needed to be. He played different positions, but even when he was at one, he studied the other. When he had a moment, he coached up younger players. When WVU needed someone to do something, he made himself available.
Late last season, when WVU was getting very little production from the outside position opposite Stedman Bailey, defenses gambled a little bit and took their focus off that side and put it on the half of the field that usually had Bailey and Tavon Austin.
Holgorsen countered and plugged Woods into the starting lineup. He started in the regular-season finale against USF and had a career-high four catches for 38 yards. Three receptions picked up a first down, including one on the game-winning drive.
WVU didn't start a second outside receiver in the Orange Bowl, but Woods was the top player at his spot and played quite a bit. He caught one pass for 15 yards and the defense was kept honest enough that the inside receivers had a party in the middle of the field.
In the spring, though, WVU was ready to again let McCartney and Nehlen earn the starting spot outside and Holgorsen asked Woods to help out inside, where there was no one before Thompson emerged. Woods did nothing wrong, but Thompson was a better fit for the plays and the position.
Rather than let Woods languish as a backup, Holgorsen again moved Woods outside.
"He was more productive than the guys we have outside," Holgorsen said.
By now, Woods feels very comfortable in the offense and knows not just what he has to do, but what everyone else has to do. Should Shannon Dawson, the receivers coach who also coordinates the offense, lose his voice and break both of his arms one day and miss a game, Woods said he could slide right into the vacancy.
"I definitely could give you all you need to know about the inside and outside guys," he said. "I know this offense and understand what we're supposed to do. I can tell you play by play."
WVU needs that as much as it needs someone to complement Bailey outside and Thompson and Austin inside. The Mountaineers have a number of bodies at receiver, but not as many players who are ready to go. There are a few, though, including freshmen Devonte Robinson, who seems destined to play this season.
He's returned kickoffs in practice and is a backup at Woods' Z position, where he's learning a lot faster than he predicted. Robinson said Woods is "like an older brother" who has helped the freshman stay level through good experiences and bad ones.
"He's been sharing his own knowledge to be the best you can be and play like you know you can play, like nobody can stop you," Robinson said.
Woods never worried about the competition from newcomers or losing his spot, even recently when it looked like he might not have one. He instead tutored the freshman because helping Robinson eventually helps the team.
"He's a very athletic kid who has great hands and can run great routes, so I'm just telling him things to keep his confidence high as things happen that he might not like," Woods said. "I think it's important to get all of them to our level. Once we get them to the level we're playing at, that makes us that much deeper and that much better as a unit."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.