Former NHS star to get first start with Alcorn

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 5, 2004

LORMAN &045; Truth be told, Bryan Woods is ahead of schedule.

But that’s why the former Natchez High defensive lineman is just a little nervous heading into Alcorn’s season opener against Grambling. The ASU sophomore will make his first collegiate start Saturday against the Tigers as part of a revamped front line for the Braves this season.

Woods, who played some last season as a true freshman, is just ready to play.

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&uot;A little bit of both,&uot; the soft-spoken Woods admitted. &uot;Really, I’m just thinking about going out there, doing my best and playing hard. I had to grow up quick. I had to get it all quick. Coach, he’s really been patient with me.&uot;

It’s safe to say the last four or five months have been a whirlwind for a guy who the Braves picked off that 0-11 Natchez High squad from 2001. Woods played in five games last season and had a handful of minutes in each one playing behind All-Southwestern Athletic Conference performer Michael Howleit, who led the team in tackles for loss (15) and sacks (six).

Howleit was declared academically ineligible over the summer, and that put Woods on the fast track to starting.

&uot;Assignments, techniques &045; all the facets of the game,&uot; Woods said. &uot;The speed of the game definitely increased a lot.&uot;

Through it all, Woods has remained steady. Coaches prior to fall camp didn’t declare Woods as the starter at defensive end but noted the position was his to lose.

So far, he still has it.

&uot;I’m very proud of Bryan,&uot; defensive line coach Willie McGowan Jr. said. &uot;He’s been a model student and model athlete for us. He’s excelling academically, and it’s carried over on to the field. He doesn’t say much, but he does everything he’s supposed to do. We’re very, very proud of that kid.&uot;

Woods had just four tackles in those five games last season, and he got perhaps his most playing time in the Braves’ final game at Jackson State when the 6-2, 250-pound Howleit was nursing an injury.

He also posted one tackle for loss, a half a sack and a quarterback hurry in his brief time last year.

&uot;He got most of the reps in the spring,&uot; McGowan said. &uot;We expected him to fill in that position, but it’s hard to replace a Michael Howleit. The kid was a good kid, brought a lot to the game and was like a coach on the field. There’s no replacing Michael Howleit.&uot;

The biggest difference between Woods and Howleit is their size. At 6-2, 210 pounds, Woods may be a little undersized at the position and may often line up against some of the biggest offensive linemen on the other side of the ball &045; often somebody pushing 300 pounds or so and maybe a little taller.

That’s why the Braves would like for the sophomore to bulk up a bit. But fortunately, he can make up for it in other areas.

&uot;His quickness, his work ethic and his tenaciousness are his strengths,&uot; McGowan said. &uot;We would like for him to bulk up a little bit so he can do a better job against the offensive tackles. Right now I have him pass rushing on every down.&uot;

The sophomore is on the right track. He’s up from that 210-pound listing on the roster to 215 now.

&uot;I’m shooting for about 230 or 235,&uot; Woods said. &uot;Coming out of high school, I was 227 pounds. I lost weight for powerlifting.&uot;

The test on Saturday is a big one for Woods and the defensive front. The Tigers have nothing but 300-pounders across the front, each of them juniors and seniors.

The tackles are huge &045; junior Jonathan Banks at 6-8, 360 pounds and junior Andre Bennett at 6-6, 330 pounds.

&uot;We’re trying to go into the game with speed up front,&uot; Woods said. &uot;Alcorn has always been known for their big defensive tackles. I believe everybody is feeling kind of ready.&uot;

Woods will be making his first start along with true freshman tackles Robert Browne (6-1, 298) and JoJuan Johnson (6-4, 302), who will be seeing their first action in the spots vacated by seniors Eric Roach and Bryan Williams from a year ago.

&uot;They’re playing pretty well,&uot; Alcorn head coach Johnny Thomas said. &uot;They’re very athletic. If they continue to work hard and keep their heads on straight, they’re going to be some pretty good athletes. That remains to be seen because you can’t look at practice to determine how they’re going to play in a game. You have to see when they play in a game.&uot;

It will be their first taste of live action, but you’d have to look hard to find a better opponent to cut your teeth on in this league.

&uot;I think our freshmen look forward to the challenge,&uot; McGowan said. &uot;Grambling will be a good solid test for us. It’ll be tough, but I think we can do it. It’s not going to be easy.&uot;