Oct. 7, 2009
By Todd Dybas
It was just like the good ol' days.
Nick Wood, a defensive lineman by trade, was thrown into the offensive line with high stakes pending.
Capping his senior year at southern California's Poway High School, Wood found himself lined up with defensive tackles staring back at him. The state title was on the line in Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. A Poway offensive lineman had broken his foot, and there was Wood trying to read blitzes for the first time since his freshman season in high school.
There was a little more planning that led to Wood's change for the Huskies. After redshirting his freshman season, Wood played in seven games on the defensive line last season. At the end of spring practice this year, Steve Sarkisian approached Wood about switching sides. The offensive line was destitute. Moves to increase depth had to be made, and Wood became a candidate.
Little did he know a late spring conversation would turn into him entering the field at Notre Dame in front of a national audience six months later. The transition period had been even swifter, Wood not officially moving to the offensive line until the fall. Yet, there he was on the Huskies' third possession last Saturday, alternating at left guard with Greg Christine in one of the most manic games played this season.
"I was a little bit nervous when I first got out there," Wood said. "I'm not going to lie to you."
After sharing time in the first half, Wood played the entire second half. He's gone from the straight-spring mentality of the defensive line to trying to develop the savvy and know-how of an offensive lineman. The development time has been short.
"It's a huge transition," offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. "You go from from being an attacker to being more of a setter. In the run game, you're coming off the ball, but in the passing game, that's the biggest challenge for guys to sit back and wait."
Initially, Wood was part of the lose-and-move approach of strength coach Ivan Lewis. Wood dropped around 30 pounds during Lewis' training of the defensive linemen. Wood felt swift and that he was making an impression.
"I was moving well and coach (Nick) Holt liked me," Wood said. "I went through camp and I was doing good. I was making some plays here and there. We didn't have much depth at the O-line so they decided me and Craig (Noble)."
Wood was on board. He told Sarkisian in spring ball whatever would get him on the field and help the team worked for him. It turns out the switch has put his cleats on the FieldTurf.
Now, Wood is left to develop his game as a lineman. He says the mental switch has been more challenging than the physical. Despite his lineage as a defensive lineman, he has a new-found appreciation for the stylings of playing on the offensive line. Technique. Knowing what to do, where to be. Having the understanding of what is coming at you so you're in position to stop it. All easier said than done.
"It's a process," Wood said. "College football there's a lot going on. I'm adapting. (Offensive line) coach (Dan) Cozzetto is working hard with me. (I'm) just trying to stay in the film room and study my butt off.
"You really notice how much technique you need to have when you go against guys like Daniel (Te'o-Nesheim). Just today he made me look like an idiot."
Christine advised Wood throughout the second half at Notre Dame. Two sore ankles hobbling Christine, who took reps with the ones and twos in the fall, pushed him off the field.
This week they battle each other for a starting spot, a tussle that comes without animosity.
"He's almost like a second coach with me," Wood said of Christine. "He's incredibly smart with the O-line. He knows what everyone is doing. He could play any position if he wanted to. He's really helped me out.
"We're competing but that says a lot about him. Me and him both, we're playing for the team here. However it best benefits the team, whichever role we've got to carry."
Despite the switch, Wood, 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds, still has some defensive lineman preferences.
Todd Dybas is the executive editor of Sports Northwest magazine. Sports Northwest hits stands monthly and can be found at more than 600 locations in the Pacific Northwest. Daily news and features can be found at www.sportsnwmag.com.