PREP FOOTBALL: Woods ready for the challenge
He’s so young you could mistake him for a player.
It wasn’t even that long ago when he was hitting opponents at the collegiate level.
But 23-year-old Felix Woods was handed the keys to Columbia’s defense shortly after coming home from West Alabama, where he graduated in the fall. The Tigers’ new defensive coordinator is the youngest ever hired by eight-year head coach Brian Allen, who made the unorthodox move earlier this year.
That may seem like a lot of pressure but Woods has embraced it. He’s brought his collegiate experience — which includes two years at Weber State and two more at West Alabama — along with his four seasons as a player under Allen to the table, earning the respect of his peers and players in the few months since he started in the spring.
“I had to get out of the mindset of being a player to being a coach so basically telling the guys what to do, knowing the defense in-and-out so it hasn’t been too bad.” Wood said. “It’s a lot to get used to but I’m figuring it out.”
Allen says would’ve never made the move if Woods hadn’t been a player under him from 2009-2012. Woods was a key cog on those teams at linebacker, helping lead the Tigers to a regional final appearance in his senior season.
It just so happened that Woods was coming home from school when Chris Martinez resigned in January and the decision to bring him aboard seemed like a no-brainer for Allen. Woods played in Allen’s system for four years and then played in a similar defense for four more in college.
That made the decision easier for Allen, who describes Woods as one of the smartest players he’s ever coached. Woods may be four years removed from Columbia but picking the defense back up has been as easy as riding a bike.
“I wouldn’t have hired him if I didn’t think he had the ability to get it done,” Allen said. “He’s a high IQ guy. He’s been that since he was a player here. Obviously nothing is going to change. It’s only going to expand with age. I think he’s done a good job.”
Luckily for Woods, the transition has been easier than most. Although he was thrown into the fire, he’s learned quickly thanks to a veteran staff. Junior varsity head coach John Woodley is acting as co-defensive coordinator to assist Woods while Terrance Harrell is also back on the staff as the defensive line coach.
New defensive backs coach has also brought experience to Woods’ side after spending the past eight years playing in the NFL and CFL.
“It’s a team effort. It’s really not too much pressure on me because they’re helping me out,” Woods said. “They’ve been here longer than me. They’re pretty much the veterans when it comes to coaching. It’s really a group effort, not just a one-man show.”
Veterans on defense have also made the transition easier for Woods, who is also acting as the linebackers coach. He’s working with an experienced unit at that position with seniors Ethan Umstead and Jaylen Brown and junior Marlon Pollock.
That group has taken some of the burden off Woods as he continues to focus on becoming a better coach one day at a time.
“The main thing where I’ve grown is I’ve become more and more vocal and actually telling the kids what to do,” Woods said. “I was more of a quiet person when I was actually playing. I would lead by example but now I actually have to talk and be more vocal to the kids and make sure they’re doing everything right.”
The only real disadvantage for Woods has been learning on the fly. Martinez was able to study under Dennis Dotson for a year as the linebackers coach before taking over for him in 2015, soaking up all three levels of the defense in the process.
Woods hasn’t had that luxury but he hasn’t let that deter him. As for expectations, Allen has been impressed with Woods since the first day he walked in.
“He had to hit the ground running so it’s been a little bit of an adjustment but he’s continuing to get better and better each day,” Allen said. “I don’t expect him to be a 12-year veteran coach in his first year but he’ll be where we need him to be. He’s not doing a bad job right now but as he continues to get that time under his belt he’s going to be as a good as any other one that I’ve had. All the others had on him was time.”