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S.C. State ready to knock on Wood

Former Demon standout invited to walk-on with Bulldogs

Posted: June 22, 2017 9:04 a.m.
Updated: June 23, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

THAI WOOD WILL CONTINUE his academic and football pursuits at South Carolina State University. The former L-E is flanked by his grandparents, Lawrence Jack and Janice Wood, and his parents, Nissary and Todd Wood. Standing, from left, are L-E head football coach and athletic director Matt Campbell, L-E assistant coach Garrett Knight, L-E assistant coach Tim Harkness, Wood‘s brother Tres Wood, L-E assistant coach Raymond Jennings, Wood’s brother Langston Wood, L-E assistant coach Mike Armstrong and L-E principal Worth Thomasson.

In the world of college football, walk-ons are oftentimes best seen and not heard.

Thai Wood is trying to lay that thinking to rest.

Standing 6-foot-2 and checking in at 320 pounds, the 2017 Lugoff-Elgin graduate can hardly walk into a room unnoticed. Same goes for the football field which Wood will stay on after signing as a preferred walk-on with South Carolina State University recently.

An All-Region 6-4A defensive tackle for Matt Campbell’s Demons last fall, Wood took it upon himself to pave his own way to Orangeburg after being wooed by several other schools and programs during the recruiting process.

“I didn’t really know about S.C. State until this past year because my brother went there,” Wood said of initiating the contact with the Bulldogs’ football program. “I went there for a game and I really enjoyed it … I like the environment. Once, after that, I got in contact with the coach and he said that he would be happy to have me there.”

For the past two seasons, Wood lined up over the center for the Demons. At S.C. State, he could be the person blocking defensive tackles and ends as a switch to offense cannot be ruled out.

“Most schools wanted me to play offense,” he said. “When I go there, I’ll check out the offense and see how that is. I also want to try and be on defense, as much as possible.”

This past season, Wood rang up 103 tackles with42 of those being solo stops with a pair coming behind the line of scrimmage.

Should SCSU head coach Buddy Pough and his staff decide to make Wood a blocker rather than a tackler, it would not be the first time the 2017 4A state qualifier in the shot put and discus would be on that side of the ball.

“It won’t be much of a change because I played on offense my sophomore year. I think it will be easy,” he said of a possible switch to the offensive line. “I’d rather play defense but offense would be fine, too. I just want to play football in college.”

Wood’s high school coach knows what it is like to have to change positions on the fly. A tight end at South Carolina, Campbell was moved inside to guard during his eight-year NFL career. Campbell said Wood has the attributes needed to play on either side of the football.

“I think he’s going to be a nose guard. I think he can be that guy who goes in and can take on double-teams and holds his ground,” he said. “Honestly, though, it would not surprise me if they flipped Thai over and put him on the other side of the ball. I think he’s powerful enough that he can knock people off the line of scrimmage.”

It is hard not to conjure up the word “powerful” when first seeing Wood, who was the third in the unlimited division at the 2017 S.C. State Strength Meet for high school student-athletes. Earlier this year, he won the “Mr. Clean” Award at the Palmetto Power Clean Championships for the second straight year, leading the competition with a power clean of 315 pounds.

Strength and hard work will not be an issue for Wood whose body, Campbell said with a grin, will continue to develop in college.

“They’ll get him right. Right now, he’s a high school kid and he’s probably eating McDonald’s four times a week,” Campbell said. “Once he gets there, gets on the training table and really refines his eating and they spend more time in the weight room with the time available to them, his body is going to change again. He’ll probably lean down but I think he can still play at 300 pounds.”

Wood was a weight room warrior at L-E under the guidance of Dr. Mike Armstrong, the school’s strength and conditioning coach and teacher.

“Coach Armstrong trains us just like a college team. When he implemented his new workout regiment over the last year, I really got in tune with it,” said Wood, who added that he has almost always been the strongest player on all his football teams growing up. “That’s what has gotten me so strong so far.”

Campbell said that after having worked with Armstrong, nothing will come as a total shock to Wood once he gets into the weight room at S.C. State.

“The intensity level is going to change but Thai has a great work ethic. He’s a tough kid and he’s not going to go in there afraid of anybody, I’ll tell you that,” said the third-year Demon boss. “Coach Armstrong runs our weight room like a college weight room so Thai’s not going to be shocked or, go in there and see something that he hasn’t seen before.”

Getting the chance to play football in college is the next step in a dream which began in sixth grade, when Thai Wood first started playing football in the Kershaw County Parks and Recreation Department league. “From then on,” he said, “I couldn’t give the sport up.”

While some high school seniors admit to being on edge when signing the papers which will secure their college plans, Wood just grinned when asked that question. This was hardly the time to get  a case of nerves.

“There’s not much nervousness, it’s just a signing,” he said with a wide smile. “The real thing will come when I actually get there and go out onto the field.”

When that day comes in a few weeks, Matt Campbell thinks Thai Wood may turn more than a few heads for a young man being brought in as a preferred walk-on but who is willing to work his way toward earning a scholarship.

 “Thai is big, tough and he’s physical and is very strong. He’s one of the strongest players on our team,” he said. “When he goes down there, physically, he’ll be ready to go in and compete. It won’t be much on developing other than on his technique and flexibility.

“He’s going to be a good solid addition to that program both academically and athletically.”

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