On one of the first plays of his high school career, Lawrence High running back JD Woods took a handoff and ran up the middle of the field for a 58-yard touchdown during a freshman football game in 2012.
Three years later and Woods is still difficult to stop — only now it’s at the varsity level. Lawrence (6-0, ranked No. 1 by Kpreps.com) will face Olathe Northwest (5-1) at 7 p.m. today at CBAC in the first game of districts.
In the past two weeks, Woods has rushed for 482 yards and scored 10 touchdowns, including scores on the first play from scrimmage in each game.
Woods is a lot of things. He’s fast. He’s confident. He’s strong. He possesses great vision when looking for holes. And, perhaps, he’s one of the best running backs in school history.
“He’s got power and he runs so low to the ground that all you’re hitting is helmet, shoulder pads and knees,” LHS coach Dirk Wedd said. “There’s nothing soft there and that’s why he breaks so many tackles.”
Woods has recorded 3,003 rushing yards in his career, only 278 yards from the school record set by Michael Cosey (3,281) during 1989-91. Woods also trails Brandon McAnderson, who finished with 3,052 rushing yards before he graduated in 2003.
Against Olathe Northwest last year, the 5-foot-7, 180-pound Woods rushed for 294 yards, the most in a single-game since Thomas Daniels rushed for 272 in the 1995 state title game.
But records don’t matter much to Woods. He has bigger goals in mind.
“That’s not winning me a state championship or hanging a banner for my teammates and Lawrence High and the city of Lawrence,” Woods said. “The school record can be whatever it is, but I’m not really worried about myself right now. I’m trying to worry about my team and these guys.”
Senior quarterback Alan Clothier has played with Woods since the third grade, always sharing the backfield together. Clothier, along with senior H-back Peter Afful, helped give Woods the nickname “JD” when they were young, a play off of his real name Ja’Darius.
Even throughout all of those years together, Clothier still can’t believe some of the plays Woods makes each week.
“I don’t know how he always breaks every single tackle,” Clothier said. “He does it somehow and gets into the end zone. He fights. … If I was a defense, I’d be like, ‘Oh wow, he’s very small. He’s just really fast.’ But he’s also like a big running back. Like a fullback that can run hard, too.”
But the varsity level wasn’t always as easy as Woods makes it look now. During his sophomore season he struggled with fumbles, a sprained ankle and some blocking issues, which cost him some playing time.
“As a sophomore, he wouldn’t hold onto the ball and he wanted to bounce everything (outside) like most speed guys do,” Wedd said. “So he didn’t get to play as much as he thought he should. He didn’t get to play as much as he deserved to play. But you teach really good running backs lessons early on and then they come back and thank you later on.”
Woods learned from his mistakes. Any of those selfish tendencies turned into a team-first attitude during the last two seasons. He’s always quick to credit his big offensive line — Amani Bledsoe, Trey Georgie, Jake Unruh, Mark Greene and Ethan Taylor — that he runs behind.
Woods is determined to do whatever it takes to bring home a state championship, whether it’s lining up in the backfield, in the secondary or to block punts. He’s known for his competitive streak. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the football field or playing the video game “Madden” with the Green Bay Packers.
He remembers his only loss on South Middle School’s football team in the seventh grade, losing to senior linebacker Price Morgan and Southwest Middle School. He’s quick to point out that he helped South go undefeated during the eighth grade, winning a city title.
“Hate to lose. If it’s a video game, I’ll try to fight you,” Woods said. “It’s always been like that. It’s in my family. My brothers hates to lose and my sister. Losing just doesn’t go well with me.”
Woods, the state runner-up in the 100-meter dash last track season, wants to play football at the collegiate level. He’s received interest in the past from FCS-schools Northern Iowa, Western Illinois, Illinois State, Missouri State, South Dakota and South Dakota State, but hopes to “do better on the field, classroom and hopefully something good happens.”
However, it’s his chase for a state championship that has his focus right now and will likely determine how he stacks up against some of the best players in school history.
“Really how you gauge running backs in this town is did he win a state championship?” Wedd said. “If you win a state championship, then you can be put in the same breath as some of those other guys. But until we win one, he’s just going to be a really, really good back.
“Is it fair? I don’t know,” Wedd added. “The way this town gauges all the great players that have come through this school is by did you win a state championship first, then we’ll talk about how good you were.”
LHS probable starters
LT — Trey Georgie, sr.
LG — Jacob Unruh, jr.
C — Mark Greene, jr.
RG — Ethan Taylor, so.
RT — Amani Bledsoe, sr.
QB — Alan Clothier, sr.
RB — JD Woods, sr.
H — Peter Afful, sr.
WR — Ivan Hollins, sr.
WR — J’Mony Bryant, sr.
TE — Price Morgan, sr.
K — Cole Brungardt, jr.
P — Alan Clothier, sr.
DE — Trey Georgie, sr.
DT — Nathan Koehn, sr.
DT — Jacob Unruh, jr.
DE — Amani Bledsoe, sr.
LB — Konner Kelley, sr.
LB — Price Morgan, sr.
LB — Tanner Green, sr.
CB — Dante’ Jackson, so.
CB — Ivan Hollins, sr.
SS — Santino Gee, jr.
FS — Cade Burghart, jr.