Coming off a solid sophomore season at defensive end, Tanner Wood hoped to use Kansas State’s spring practices as a launching point toward even bigger things as a junior.
Instead, he sat out all 15 sessions with an injury.
Wood, who is from Conway Springs, Kan., describes the experience in one word: Hard.
“Being out, it’s hard,” Wood said. “I wasn’t able to participate in spring ball. I filled my time with a lot of treatments and coaching up the younger guys. I tried to help and stay mentally fresh with everything that was going on. But it makes you want to get back out there. Whenever you take time off, you just want to be out there with your teammates performing at a high level.”
The opportunity is coming. Wood is now healthy and working out with his K-State teammates “at full go” as they grind their way through summer workouts. That’s good news for him and the team. He could start on the defensive line next season.
If Wood continues to improve at the rate he has since joining the Wildcats, he could become a playmaker.
Wood had a promising season a year ago, making 34 tackles and two sacks while playing in all 13 of K-State’s games. He was a regular on K-State’s defensive line, filling in for starters Jordan Willis and Marquel Bryant, and he hopes to be a full-time starter this season.
At 6-foot-5, 263 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to fulfill his goals. Wood, a four-star recruit, was one of the top-rated members of K-State’s 2013 recruiting class. His high school career approached legendary status, as he was named Gatorade Player of the Year in the Sunflower State after rushing for a state-record 659 yards and nine touchdowns in a single game.
Adjusting to defense at the college level wasn’t easy, but he is now comfortable playing with his hand on the ground.
“It was a tough transition at first, but now that I have gotten more experience with it, it has been a lot better,” Wood said. “Every year, it just gets a lot better for me. Every year, it gets easier for me. I am looking forward to this year. It should turn out all right.”
He will have plenty of help. Defensive line starters Jordan Willis and Will Geary both return up front, linebackers Elijah Lee, Charmeachealle Moore and Will Davis return in the middle, and Duke Shelley and Dante Barnett return at defensive back. The Wildcats will boast experience on defense this season.
Wood wasn’t a part of the unit during spring practices, but he is ready to contribute in the fall.
“It is nice to have so much coming back,” Wood said. “Last season, we started out the season strong as a defense and then had injury after injury after injury. Things should be better this season. I think we can be an excellent defense. If we can stay healthy and out of trouble, it should be a good year.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett