August 26, 2008

Woods on verge of completing comeback

The last time he took the field, he compiled 111 yards and had fans talking about him being the next big thing at wide receiver.

The player in question is Artrell Woods. The last time Orange Country saw him play football was in the Spring Game of 2007.

In a few days, he's expected to break the huddle for the first time since then. For the first time since a horrific back injury had everyone at Oklahoma State questioning whether he'd be able to walk again or lead a normal life.

Football? This was a moment where no one even bothered to think about that.

The freak accident in the weight room scared us all. It was one of those moments where you step back and it really hits you just how violent and dangerous playing football can be - even if this injury wasn't sustained on the field. It just makes you think.

And now? You think about how him being able to play in the 2008 opener at Washington State is even possible. It's a moment that makes you amazed about just how great medical technology has become, while looking up and feeling that there has to be someone above with a plan.

And the plan is for Woods to play in Seattle.

"He's going to get on the field," said head coach Mike Gundy. "I suspect he'll play around 30-35 plays at his position. He's on special teams - he's going to play on two special teams - then obviously he's going to play receiver."

So, the comeback is all but complete at this point. Simply amazing. I remember the first time I saw Woods in person after the accident. It was at the school's media day last summer. He came out wearing his road uniform from the Independence Bowl and a giant white back brace with stickers on it. Walking gingerly to the media, he had a hopeful vibe and shared positive words. Talked about getting back out there to play again. Pollyanna-ish? I don't know, but he believed it.

And while there might have been doubters in the crowd at the time, he was exactly right. Now, he stands just four days away from making that goal a reality.

"We've talked about it a lot, not to keep repeating ourselves, but it's a really incredible story," Gundy said. "For him to have the willpower to do it and the medical staff to put him back together and the people here at OSU who rehabilitated him … it's a pretty amazing story."

It's a story that isn't forgotten by his teammates.

"He's inspired everyone," Zac Robinson said. "His work ethic and attitude has inspired everyone. I couldn't be more happy for a guy to come back from that. He's a great kid and a great player, but he's even a better person. So I'm looking at seeing him improve and becoming a big part of this offense."

With the need for other wideouts to step up to counter Dez Bryant, Woods has a chance to make an impact on the field after sitting out all of last season.

"He gets better every day," Gundy said. "I've noticed in the last couple of weeks that he'll get hit more and bounces back up. I worried about him from day one. I cringed every time somebody got around him and hit him, even though he's structurally stronger than he was to start with. That's what we've been told. And every day I see him getting hit more, falling down, people piling on him and he just gets up and goes back to the huddle. I'm sure maybe in the back of his mind, but I think for the most part he's gotten over it."

If there was a bright spot to his injury, it's that it wasn't of the on-field variety. The thinking there is that he won't be haunted by his mishap every time he takes the field.

"I would think it probably is an advantage getting hurt off the field versus it happening on the field. I know as a player that would be more in my mind than what happened," Gundy said. "That might help him some."

There are a lot of great things about the first week of the new season. Getting to see actual football again is one of them. But this weekend, win or lose, the greatest thing associated with OSU football will be this young man taking the field again. Its stories like these that really move and inspire people. It also reminds us that, while no one is invincible, any one of us can make a comeback from anything if we put our minds to it.

Maybe he'll get 112 yards against WSU? It'd be appropriate.

Justin Wilmeth is the Editor of OStateIllustrated.com. He can be reached via e-mail at justin@ostate.com.

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