Cedric Woods devised the plan long before he made it happen.
A meaningful and emotional gesture was going to executed, he just had to execute the most important part of his plan than had more than a year in the works.
The Louisiana Tech freshman cornerback accomplished the integral phase, snagging his first collegiate interception last Saturday during the fourth quarter against UTEP. Two days later, it was time to see out the rest of the plot.
Woods visited his high school alma mater in Monroe Monday. He observed Carroll’s practice and as it wound down, he approached him former position coach, nudging Greg James that he had something for him.
Woods presented James with a Tech game ball.
“It was a memorial-type deal,” Woods told The News-Star Wednesday. “Coach Greg, he got to Carroll my senior year and he really helped me develop a lot in a short amount of time. He taught some very valuable things that I’m still using in college. I really appreciate him for that.
“When I get my first pick in college, we got to do something special. That’s what we did.”
Truth be told, it wasn’t the actual ball that he intercepted from UTEP quarterback Gavin Hardison. Woods wasn’t giving that one up; he keeps that at his house. But it was important to give James a ball as a gesture of all the extra work the pair put in before college.
“Me and Ced talk all the time so I knew he was coming to practice.” James said. “When he came out, he played around. He stayed at practice, throwing the ball around with us. Our players were excited to see him. Toward the end of practice, he came up to me. He was nothing but smiles.
“It brought chills to my body getting that ball.”
When Woods was announced a starter for Louisiana Tech’s opener at Southern Miss last month, Tech coach Skip Holtz believed the freshman had earned the right to start based on his consistency in practice. But due to some other players missing time during practice, Woods wasn’t guaranteed a starting role.
He had to go earn it.
“Cedric kept getting better and better, he showed flashes, worked extremely hard and I think he earned the opportunity to be the starter,” Holtz recalled. “But I don’t think there’s any doubt, you put a freshman out there and say, ‘We’ll see how it goes.’ How’s he going handle when the bright lights come on, how’s he going to handle himself? He is extremely comfortable out there on the field. There’s some guys that can do it all day at practice but out there on the field, they just struggle.
“When the lights come on, he’s almost better. I’m starting to feel more and more comfortable with how he’s playing and the quality football he plays when he goes out there.”
Woods has not been surprised by the start to his collegiate career, where he ranks fifth in the nation in pass breakups by a freshman. For the first time, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound playmaker has only had to focus on one phase of the game. He admitted high school football was harder when he played multiple positions, including quarterback and wide receiver.
And it’s paid off, demonstrated by his outing versus UTEP, highlighted by the interception but compounded by knocking down three other passes thrown his way.
“UTEP was actually the first game I felt like I was catching my footing. UTEP was the first game where I’ve really been settled in and locking in looking at the splits, down-and-distance, the really small details in the game,” Woods said. “I think I’m like fifth in the nation in pass breakups, that’s a good accolade, but I want those interceptions. I’ve missed a few in the UTEP and BYU games. I really should have like four or maybe five picks.
“It hasn’t surprised me at all. Everything the opponent has gained, I haven’t given it to them. No receiver has come in and just overwhelmed me with speed or quickness, nothing like that. It’s a me thing, locking into technique. Once that happens, it’s going to be a real serious deal.”
After seeing his star pupil collect his first interception and the ensuing celebration, it gave James chills because he knows there is more to come.
“You ain’t seen Cedric yet. The dude is light, he can go like skates, no exaggeration. I used to watch his film and his plays over and over, and I’d go, ‘How did you slide through that?’ ” James said. “Like, I became a fan of a kid I’m coaching right now. He has amazing ability. He can just out of the roof, he’s just a freak. He’s always had the team on his back. It’s scary what he can do.
“Right now, he’s still learning. When I say scary, I mean he’s smart, fast as hell and he’s a sponge and very coachable. When Ced really learns how he is, he’s light.”