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Center Grove graduate specializes for Grizzlies

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To the casual observer, Mike Wood’s job might look easy, if not irrelevant.

It’s neither.

If it were, Franklin College football coaches wouldn’t save a roster spot for a player who only kicks off. And the Center Grove football team wouldn’t have won the Class 5A state championship four years ago.

That’s how critical his job is for the Grizzlies (9-2), who play a second-round NCAA Division III playoff game Saturday at Mary Hardin-Baylor (11-0) in Belton, Texas.

If you go

What: Second round NCAA Division III football playoffs, Franklin College (9-2) at Mary Hardin-Baylor (11-0)

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Tiger Field in Belton, Texas

Admission: $8 for adults, $4 for students with ID, and $5 for senior citizens and children ages 3 and older, and senior citizens ages 60 and older

The Wood File

Name: Mike Wood

College: Franklin

Position: Kicker

Year: Junior

Age: 22

High school: Center Grove (2008)

College experience: First-year at Franklin, handles all kickoffs; transferred to Franklin after three seasons at Illinois State, where he also handled kickoffs

High school highlights: Was a starting wide receiver and handled all kicking and punting chores for the 2008 Class 5A state championship football team; executed two successful onside kicks and caught a touchdown pass in last six minutes of the Trojans’ dramatic 36-33 comeback win against Carmel in the state final; made a school-record 92 of 93 extra-point attempts and made 4 of 6 field-goal tries during senior year

Favorite football team: University of Michigan

Favorite football player: Charles Woodson

Favorite movie: “Friday Night Lights”

Favorite TV show: “Duck Dynasty”

Favorite book: “The Hobbit”

Major: Biology

Parents: Dean and Cathy Wood; both are Franklin College graduates

“My role is to kick the ball not only as deep as I can but place it in the right spot,” said Wood, a former Center Grove standout whose strong leg and pinpoint accuracy have earned him a unique role with the Grizzlies. He handles kickoffs and nothing else.

He does it so well that Franklin coach Mike Leonard assigned the chore solely to him.

“He’s doing very well. It’s not just kick it as far as you can and see where it goes, shotgun-style,” said Leonard, who credits Wood for routinely putting the Grizzlies’ defense on solid field position footing. “Rifle accuracy is what you want, along with hang time and some distance.

“It’s more pinning a (return man) in a corner with our schemes, so that he really has one way to go.”

Anyone familiar with Center Grove’s 2008 state championship knows about Wood’s precision. He played a starring role in the final against Carmel, when he executed two successful onside kicks — and caught a touchdown pass — in the closing minutes to help rally the Trojans to an unforgettable 36-33 win in Lucas Oil Stadium.

Center Grove trailed by 19 points in the fourth quarter before Wood, who was also a starting wide receiver, did his part to make the comeback possible with his foot and his hands.

As a reward, he received an unexpected football scholarship from Illinois State — an offer he couldn’t refuse after leaning toward Franklin College, where his parents both graduated. His father, Dean, was a defensive back and return specialist for legendary Grizzlies coach Stewart “Red” Faught.

Wood, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior, spent three largely unfulfilling seasons at Illinois State. He redshirted his freshman year, handled kickoffs the following season and suffered a season-ending knee injury during practice his third year, which compelled him to transfer to Franklin.

His timing couldn’t have been better.

Although the Grizzlies special teams were already in good hands in senior place-kicker Cole Richards, who handles extra-point and field-goal attempts, and junior punter Michael Parks, Wood found a niche kicking off for a team that is in the postseason for the fourth time in the past five years.

Wood, who has kicked off 67 times for 3,998 yards and a 59.7 yards-per-kick average average, embraces his unique role. More importantly, he feels at home at Franklin College, which is ranked No. 16 in the D3football.com Top 25.

“I was recruited by Franklin out of high school. Both my parents went here, and I really liked it,” Wood said. “But my dream was to play Division I. I felt like I did that at Illinois State. It was just time to have some fun, I felt like, and Franklin is a great place. It’s really fun on the football team. Everybody’s like brothers.

“That was a big part of coming here, the camaraderie, and just to have fun playing football again.”

Wood is reunited with former Center Grove teammate Brooks Bemis, a senior offensive lineman and co-captain who was also a starter on the state championship team. Although they occasionally reminisce about the 2008 classic, their focus is on the 2012 Division III playoffs.

Mary Hardin-Baylor is ranked No. 2 in the D3football.com Top 25 and is, along with No. 1 Mount Union (11-0), regarded a frontrunner for the national championship.

But the Grizzlies hardly rule themselves out of the championship equation. They are on a nine-game winning streak and are coming off a 42-10 first-round win at Adrian (Mich.).

“We have a great team. Everybody’s meshing with each other really well,” Wood said. “Everybody is excited to try to accomplish things that we know we can accomplish. Of course, we know Mary Hardin is a very good team, but I don’t think we’re intimidated.

“We’ll see how the game goes.”

With a year of eligibility remaining, Wood, 22, plans to play next season with the objective of assuming all place-kicking responsibilities. Although he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of trying out as a wide receiver or tight end, he is so delighted with his football home that he’s content to perform whatever task the Grizzlies ask.

“I’ve thought about going back to receiver. I’d have to lose a little weight for that,” he said, laughing. “I would love to play receiver if given an opportunity, but whatever is best for the team, that’s what I’ll do. If they need me to play receiver, then I’ll do that.

“If they just need me to kick, then that’s fine, too.”

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