Penn sprint football wrapped up its fourth consecutive win to start the season this past weekend to head into an bye week still undefeated.
Of the multitude of players who have raised their game this season, junior defensive back Tracey Woods has stood out as one of the most improved players on the roster. If Woods seems like a new face, it’s because he is only in his first year with the Quakers. In fact, he hadn’t played football at all for the last six years.
Through four games, Woods has four pass breakups and one interception to go along with 10.5 total tackles. Looking at the how the defense has done this year as a whole also shows Woods’ importance to the team.
Penn’s defense has allowed only four passing touchdowns through its first four games, while picking off the opposing quarterback a noteworthy 13 times. This secondary is not just opportunistic though — they have proven capable of shutting down the opposing team’s passing attack each week by only allowing 5.5 yards per passing play. For contrast, Penn’s offense has averaged 10.1 yards per passing play this season.
Though it may seem like a surprise that one of the team’s top players played his last football game before this season six years ago, Woods’ childhood experience with the sport and dedication to re-learning the game this offseason paved the way for the his successful season thus far.
Woods’ football career began when he was just in elementary school, but by the time he reached high school, he began to develop interests in other sports, joining the cross country and bowling teams for St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. Though he was no longer playing organized football, his love for the sport never dwindled. Woods admitted that quitting football was a regrettable decision.
“In hindsight, it wasn’t the best choice,” he said, “because every every year I didn’t play I just missed being on the field, and it’s not really something you can just recreate in a pickup game.”
Joining the sprint football team this year allowed Woods to finally get the feeling back that he had lacked since before high school.
Picking up a sport after a six-year layoff is not an easy task. To further complicate matters, Woods was also making the transition from wide receiver to cornerback. The difference between focusing on the quarterback, as he had learned as a wide receiver, and staying with his man as a cornerback was hard at first, and Woods will be the first to tell you that during the spring, he struggled at practice.
“I was used to playing receiver and having the ball thrown at me,” he said. “So now I’m here at practice paying attention to the quarterback rather than the guy I’m supposed to be covering and just blowing coverage in every rep.”
Over the summer he studied defensive footwork and technique, learning how to read a receiver’s hips, how to play both man and zone coverage and bait the quarterback into a risky pass. When it came time for preseason practices in August, Woods was a whole new player, ready to take on the daunting task of a starting cornerback role.
Woods has been around successful football teams before. As a senior in high school, his school’s team featured current LSU superstar Leonard Fournette, who led the team to an 8-1 regular season. Though Woods was not a member of the team, he still felt the energy such a successful season was able to bring to the school, and for Penn sprint football that same type of energy is currently there.
“This whole year the coaching staff has been saying this is a special team,” he said, “and now it’s time for us to finish it.”
With a 4-0 record, big wins over Navy and Army, and only three games left on the schedule, this could be the year they do secure the title, on the back of Woods and the defense’s strong play.
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