Former LHS standout JD Woods breaks Baker University’s career rushing record

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Baker senior JD Woods carries the ball against Clarke University on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020 in Dubuque, Iowa. With 102 yards on 18 carries, Woods broke BU's career rushing mark during the 57-3 victory.

For much of his youth, Baker University running back JD Woods wanted to be the next John Wall.

But instead of becoming a basketball superstar like his childhood idol, the former Lawrence High Lion went on to become one of the most decorated football players the state has ever seen.

Woods cemented that status on Saturday afternoon, during Baker’s 57-3 victory at Clarke University, where he broke BU’s 32-year-old career rushing record by tallying 102 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.

His latest 100-yard day pushed his career total to 4,534 yards in four seasons, eclipsing the old mark of 4,492 set by Ed Lierz in 1988.

After a rough start during which Woods fumbled twice in the opening quarter — he admitted to being “in my head a little” about the chance to break the record — the senior running back officially topped Lierz’s total with a 43-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter.

“It was a surreal moment,” Woods said on Sunday via telephone. “And it was perfect. To be out there with a lot of guys who have been at Baker with me since the beginning, getting the record on a touchdown run gave me a chance to thank all of them.”

Woods even thanked members of the defense for doing their part to keep the ball in the offense’s hands so often during the past four years.

“I’m happy for JD,” Baker coach Jason Thoren said after the game. “It’s an awesome accomplishment for him and all the guys who have helped him along the way.”

It’s also one that Woods would never have expected at the beginning of his college career, because he thought his football future was at a different school.

After securing the all-time rushing record at LHS (3,909 yards) Woods enrolled at Missouri Western. But after redshirting his freshman season, the former Lion was looking for a better fit in 2017. He said Baker’s proximity to home and the fact that the Wildcats had a winning culture and were perennial national title contenders played major roles in his decision to transfer to BU.

The fact that Thoren, now in his second season as Baker’s head coach, was a dominant LHS running back in his day also helped, even though Thoren was the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator when Woods arrived.

“We talk all the time about our Lawrence High days,” Woods said. “I always remind him who holds the school record and he immediately asks me how many state titles I won. I can’t really say much after that.” Thoren won three state titles during his three years at LHS; Woods won none.

The bond between player and coach has grown a lot over the past two seasons. This summer, Thoren called Woods to tell him he was less than 200 yards away from breaking the Baker record and that the NAIA’s all-time record was also within reach.

That record belongs to Derek Besgrove, who ran for 5,738 yards at Walsh University from 2000 to 2003. Woods needs 1,205 yards the rest of the season to top that mark. Getting to that point likely would require the Wildcats (2-0) to make a deep run in the postseason.

That’s just fine with Woods, who is far more concerned about the team’s goals than taking down another record.

In fact, his cousin, LHS senior Devin Neal, is currently chasing Woods’ all-time record with the Lions, and the Baker senior said he didn’t mind if Neal overtook him.

“As long as it stays in the family, I’m good with it,” Woods said Sunday.

As for his own pursuit of Besgrove’s mark, Woods admitted that he has thought about it.

“Obviously that’s in the back of my mind,” he said. “But I can’t go into each week thinking about that because that’s not going to be what’s best for my team. If I did that, it could just become the JD show, and I don’t want that. We have a really good football team down here this year. And my goal is for us to win a national championship. Those yards will come with winning.”

In addition to thanking Thoren and his current teammates, Woods said he was particularly thankful for his family’s support and the impact of his former coaches, teammates and trainers. Included on that list are former LHS coach Dirk Wedd; former BU coach Mike Grossner; former Baker offensive coordinator Jake Morse, who helped bring Woods to Baker; and trainers Ray Brown and Kelly Barah.

“I appreciate all of those guys so much,” Woods said. “And so many more people, too. It’s just crazy to think I have the record at LHS and one at Baker, too.”

Next up for Woods and the Wildcats is a clash with Graceland at 1 p.m. Saturday at Liston Stadium in Baldwin City.