When it comes time for Tanner Wood to decide on a position at Kansas State, the standout from Conway Springs, Kan., will leave the choice to his future coaches.
By KELLIS ROBINETT
He’s not sure he could pick one on his own.
After playing everything from linebacker to fullback to quarterback in high school, he became fond of lining up in different spots. He played both offense and defense for three seasons and learned that being on the football field is all it takes to be happy.
Even now, he dreams of playing ironman style with the Wildcats.
“I don’t know if I would be able to,” Wood said, “but I would love to.”
For now, K-State’s coaches have told Wood he will most likely play defensive end at the next level. He looks forward to it, even though it is a foreign position.
Outside of trying to block the occasional field goal, he doesn’t have any experience coming off the end of the defensive line and rushing into the backfield. But his versatility and 6-foot-5, 247-pound frame have allowed him to excel at new positions before. He doesn’t see why this will be any different.
“I think I will fit in pretty well,” Wood said. “I hope to come in and start showing some of my talents quickly. I’m hoping to get on the field as soon as possible.”
That will certainly be a possibility. The Wildcats are losing the four senior defensive linemen who started in the Fiesta Bowl. Their pass rush must be totally rebuilt. As a four-star prospect, and one of K-State’s highest ranked incoming recruits according to Rivals, Wood will be expected to compete for playing time immediately.
Conway Springs football coach Matt Biehler could see Wood excelling as a freshman regardless of who K-State has returning. After watching him start for four seasons, and rush for 2,704 yards while making 106 tackles as a senior, can you blame him? He even played with a torn labrum in his shoulder late in the season, fighting through the pain to throw a touchdown pass in his final high school game.
“That showed some toughness,” Biehler said. “He was our workhorse.”
Wood had surgery to repair the injury, and he is on track to make a full recovery.
“He is going to be very good at defensive end,” Biehler said. “He is so explosive off the line. He has a great first step for a big kid. There were times he had to run over people for us, but other times he had to show elusiveness. He got to the quarterback up the middle on blitzes. He has good size, but can still run sideline to sideline. That’s unique.”
Even more unusual: An incoming defensive end who set the state’s single-game rushing record with 659 yards.
That magical effort came during an 84-56 victory over Chaparral in October. Those in attendance will tell stories about Wood, and the nine touchdowns he scored, for years to come. But Wood said the most memorable part of that night was simply that his team won.
“We were going back and forth, swapping points until the fourth quarter when we finally pulled away,” Wood said. “That whole game I was like, ‘We’ve got to keep scoring to win.’ I ran the ball and got some pretty big holes to run through. I knew I had to outrun everyone or do a little shimmy and get to the end zone. That’s what we did.”
K-State saw promise in Wood long before then. Former defensive ends coach Joe Bob Clements recruited Wood throughout his high school career, and Wood committed to K-State before he was a junior. Oklahoma State and Tennessee also recruited him hard, and there was some fear Wood would follow Clements when he took a job with the Cowboys last month, but Wood never wavered. He has been a K-State fan since middle school.
Now he’s ready to play wherever the Wildcats need him.
“If they propose offense, I will jump on it. But if they don’t, I won’t be disappointed at all,” Wood said. “Working hard and doing what your coaches tell you allows you to learn quickly and become more versatile. That’s what I’ve done. That’s what I’m going to do.”
To reach Kellis Robinett, send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/KellisRobinett.