Sept. 22, 2011
By Jeff Geiser
Ever since its inception into the BIG EAST Conference prior to the 2006 season, the University of Cincinnati football team has developed a lineage of excellent wide receivers. Dominick Goodman led the Bearcats in receiving for three years in-a-row from 2006 to 2008. Mardy Gilyard followed in 2009. Last season, Armon Binns held the receiving title.
This year, senior D.J. Woods is the man expected to continue the tradition of great UC wide receivers. Woods, who was UC's second leading receiver last year after averaging 74.8 yards per game, does not feel the pressure of carrying the torch for Bearcats pass catchers.
"It's not really pressure, I try to just go out there and do my thing," said Woods. "The coaches have expectations that they want us to follow and I'm trying to do my best to follow them. I had great people in front of me - Goodie (Dominick Goodman), Mardy, and everybody out here working now. I just want to live up to my standards of how I want to play."
Woods uses the lessons learned from playing behind the likes of Goodman and Gilyard and incorporates them into his play today.
"They took me under their wings and showed me what I was supposed to do and they humbled me," Woods said of Goodman and Gilyard. "I came in thinking I would play right away, and I kind of did, but at the same time I had a lot to learn. They helped a lot with schemes. High school is a lot different than college with the schemes, the plays, coverages, reading defenses, all of that stuff. They helped me with the mental aspect of it."
Woods, a native of Strongsville, Ohio, had a roller-coaster ride of a recruitment coming out of Strongsville High School. A strong desire to play receiver, not defensive back, as well as the coaching carousel factored into his decision to attend Cincinnati.
"Ohio State wanted me to play corner back, so they offered me as a corner," Woods said. "I committed to Nebraska, but decommitted from there. I then committed to West Virginia, but their coach went to Michigan. So I decided to come here because I wanted to be a part of an up-and-coming program, just like we are now. I just wanted to be a part of something special. I feel like I made the right choice."
It would be difficult to question Woods' decision. Heading into Thursday night's game vs. N.C. State, Woods has amassed an impressive 137 catches for 1,938 yards and 13 touchdowns during his career.
Despite the success Woods has shown throughout his three-plus seasons, he is unsatisfied with his accomplishments and feels there are many aspects of the receiving game that he would like to improve upon, such as "Finishing, getting to the first-down down marker, playing to the whistle and doing everything right that Coach wants."
Echoing the sentiments of Woods and Bearcats fans, UC football head coach Butch Jones is clear about how he wants Woods to perform in his final season at Cincinnati.
"I expect him to be one of the premier receivers in our conference," said Jones. "We have very high expectations and standards for him."
Both Woods and Jones cite the development of Woods' maturity and ability to handle pressure situations as reasons for such high demands.
"I see a young man who's been extremely focused," Jones said. "He's done a great job of leading the younger players and also teaching them on the field. I see an individual who's really, really matured, grown up and right now he's playing with a lot of confidence."
"I just feel like I've matured as a man," Woods said. "I know what I have to do on and off the field. I feel like the maturity aspect of my life is coming together because my future is here and now. Growing up as a little kid, I wanted to play college football. And now maybe I'm good enough to play in the NFL and that's right around the corner."
In addition to the growing pains and experience of three years in college, Woods cites the birth of newborn son over the summer as another factor to his maturation.
"I just had my son July 23," Woods said. "It's a great experience that has matured me a lot too, just because, before, I would go out and do my thing. But now that I have a kid, I can't wait to get home and see him. At the same time, he's pushing me to be the best that I can be because now I have another mouth to feed. I just feel very blessed and I'm ready to have a great season."
After he completes his eligibility at the end of the 2011 season, Woods sees plenty of young, capable pass catchers that will continue to carry the torch for the Bearcats in the future.
"Alex Chisum, Chris Moore, just all the freshmen, Shaq Washington are all capable," Woods said. "We have a very talented freshmen core. I'm really excited to see what's going to happen in a couple years after I'm gone to see how they take it, to see who grows up and who finally takes over the reins of leadership."
Knowing 2011 is his last opportunity to leave a lasting impression on the UC program in the same fashion as his predecessors, Woods is well aware of the quickest route to accomplish just that.
"Win. That's all we want - win every game and do the best we can as a senior class and as Bearcats," Woods said. "Our standard is to win and we want to do everything we can do get everybody together and just do that."