Friday nights draw Woodson back to Gators|[9/19/06]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Undersized linebacker earns starting nod after two-year hiatus on baseball diamond.

The allure of the Friday Night Lights became too much for Tanner Woodson.

Two years out of the game to concentrate on baseball, the Vicksburg High senior couldn’t resist the chance to suit up each Friday night during the fall and, well, hit somebody.

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He’s taken that passion and hard-nosed attitude from occasional special teams player to starting linebacker. He’ll start again Friday when the Region 2-5A season begins in Jackson against undefeated Provine. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

&#8220Ever since the first day he walked out here, he has improved every day,” said VHS defensive coordinator Toriano Wells, who coached Woodson as a 9th-grader. &#8220He cracked the starting lineup last week and made some really big plays for us.”

In his first start, a 22-16 overtime victory over Southaven, he recorded seven tackles and a sack. He also had a 20-yard kickoff return.

&#8220Baseball really is my sport and I thought if I was going to go somewhere (to play in college) it would be in baseball,” Woodson said. &#8220I was missing football. I thought about it in 11th grade and this year I decided to come back.

&#8220Football is a sport you work all week for one game. All the work you do is for that two hours. Baseball you can have three games in a week and have more time to prove yourself. Football you have to be on every single game because if you’re not, you have a full week until you can fix your mistakes.”

When Woodson arrived ready to play his senior year, Wells told him he would see some time at special teams and could work his way into the regular defense.

&#8220When I came in, I thought I would get some time on defense, maybe 12 or 13 plays and, of course, special teams,” Woodson said. &#8220I’ve been pretty happy with my time so far.

&#8220I didn’t know if I would start, I just wanted to get as much playing time as possible.”

He played special teams early, eventually saw some playing time and earned the Southaven start.

Look at him at linebacker, though, and the last thing that would enter one’s mind is, &#8220he’s a linebacker?”.

Woodson stands 5-feet, 9-inches tall and weighs 165 pounds, far from the prototypical linebacker prospect.

&#8220He is really agressive,” Wells said. &#8220He has a nose for the ball and tackles really well. He’s been a great addition to our defense.”

Woodson said he doesn’t hear anything on the field about his size, but every once in a while during practice, his stature becomes an issue.

&#8220Since the 7th grade, I have always played linebacker and I have always been the most undersized linebacker out there,” Woodson said. &#8220You have to work on your reads and outsmart people.

&#8220Coach Wells messes with me sometimes, saying they’ll see that skinny white boy out there and come after me,” Woodson added with a chuckle.

The Gators will face a stiff challenge Friday against the 4-0 Rams, who have beaten four Jackson Public School teams so far this season.

Running back Anton Taylor has scored nine touchdowns, while quarterback Douglas Rash has connected with receiver William Moore for five TD passes.

The Gators’ speedy defense will be the toughest test yet. Woodson will be starting.

&#8220He’s not the biggest or strongest player on our team,” Wells said. &#8220But he may be the toughest.”