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Robert Woods' Journey Back To Full Health And Dominance

Will Robinson |
August 27, 2012 | 9:00 a.m. PDT

Senior Sports Editor

Woods, a favorite for the Biletnikoff, may play his first fully healthy season since his freshman year (Neon Tommy).
Woods, a favorite for the Biletnikoff, may play his first fully healthy season since his freshman year (Neon Tommy).
Robert Woods was hurting. Pretty bad. But no one would have ever known by his stellar production in 2011, as he was awarded All-American honors while playing on a bum ankle.

After missing all of spring ball, the junior wideout has either muted or tapered his excitement for the first game of the season, this Saturday, at home, against Hawaii.

“That’s all for the fans, number one,” Woods said of the sold-out season opener’s hype.

And what’s his hope for this season, the third with Heisman frontrunner Matt Barkley, both of whom had career years?

“Do it again and do it better,” Woods simply stated.  

He only has to best 111 catches, 1,292 yards and 15 scores, a tall order for one of the country’s best receivers.

Woods has a larger concern, though: staying healthy and getting back to the best version of Robert Woods. Barring some unforeseen medical setback, Woods’ return will not fail due to a lack of effort. His coaches and quarterback made that point very clear.

And that’s the outstanding quality which sets him apart from some of his peers across the country.

“I don’t have to get on him about anything,” wide receivers coach Tee Martin said. “Everything that you want players to focus on, he does.”

“He always wants to be the smartest receiver on the field,” Barkley said of his favorite target in 2011. “He doesn’t want to be second to anything. He doesn’t want to lose. He has that competitive spirit that you want in everyone.”

“He’s a phenomenal competitor,” coach Lane Kiffin added. “He’s not the most talented of all the receivers I’ve worked with, he’s not the biggest, he’s not going to test the best, but he’s such a competitor that he’s put up his numbers because of that.”

As Woods participated in just one spring practice, he roamed the sidelines with Martin as de facto coach. Coach Woods was able to reach his peers in the receiving corps -- Marqise Lee, George Farmer and De’Von Flournoy -- from the perspective that he’s a player who has done it and is still at their level. Even while he was prepping his teammates, Woods was doing as much as he could to rejoin the team.

“I’ve never questioned [his desire and motivation to join his teammates],” Martin said. “When I was out on the road recruiting, I’d call him and he’d say, ‘coach, I did this, did this.’ [His teammates] respect that.

“Some guys with early success, they kind of relax. But he continues to show [his fellow receivers] by leading by example,” Martin added.

As a leading candidate for the Biletnikoff Award, Woods, with Lee, are expected to be heavily featured in the high-octane Trojan offense that could possibly feature four first-team All-Americans by year’s end (Woods, Lee, Barkley and center Khaled Holmes). And they perfectly fit each other’s games.

“All around, [Woods is] the total package. He’s a great complement to Marqise,” Martin stated.

Woods wishes that he and Lee will rack up 1,000 yards apiece -- like last year -- but he has a much bigger goal: to help USC go undefeated.

The 2011 Trojans went 10-2. Twelve-and-zero (or even 14-0) is a small improvement upon superficially examining the win totals, yet indescribably more challenging.

Last season, USC perfectly played the uncharacteristic underdog role. Now, it’s a consensus top-three team. All 12 of its opponents will be gunning to dethrone one of college football’s kings.

Is there anything bigger than winning the national championship? Of course not.

Do it again may be easy enough. But for Woods and the Trojans, all they want -- and need -- is to do it better.

 

Reach Will by email or follow him on Twitter.



 

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