Bob Lutz: Wood’s game of the ages may be sign of what’s to come
No matter what Tanner Wood goes on to accomplish in the game of football — and there’s a pretty good chance it will be significant — Oct. 19, 2012, will stay with him forever.
That’s the night the Conway Springs senior rushed for a Kansas high school-record 659 yards against Chaparral. And the really strange thing is that the Cardinals needed almost every one of them to beat the Roadrunners 84-56.
Wood, who is nursing a surgically-repaired shoulder that will force him to miss Conway’s basketball season, struggles for words to describe his performance or the game, which was closer than anyone expected it to be because of a relentless Chaparral passing game that accounted for 526 yards and six touchdowns.
“It took me some time to recover from that game,’’ said Wood, who carried the ball 36 times and, as usual, played every down on defense. “My legs felt like jello for a couple of days.’’
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Wood is always difficult for an opposing defense to handle. But on this strange night, he was impossible.
He rushed for 161 yards in the first quarter, 167 in the second, 181 in the third and 150 in the fourth on five carries. He did finally get to sit out Conway Springs’ final offensive series in a game tied 35-35 at the half and 48-48 midway through the third quarter.
The whole thing left Chaparral coach Justin Burke confused.
He wanted to be upset with his team’s defensive effort, one that allowed Conway 801 yards on the ground and 84 points. That kind of decimation is never going to make a coach happy.
But Burke also knows what kind of a player Wood is. And how much bigger, faster and stronger he is than the defensive players he had on the field that night.
“I didn’t like our effort as a coach, but I think our guys were beaten down,’’ Burke said. “We have some kids with some speed, but Tanner Wood just ran away from us at times. We thought going into that game that we would have a chance to do something. We just didn’t expect that he would be Hercules that night.’’
The day before the game was terribly windy, creating a dust storm that caused several accidents in Oklahoma.
“We went out to practice on that Thursday and could hardly even stand,’’ Conway Springs coach Matt Biehler said.
He expected more of the same Friday.
“But it was a beautiful day and not a stitch of wind,’’ Biehler said. “Chaparral has such a high-potent passing game and that’s not something we do a lot of.’’
Biehler wouldn’t have minded some turbulence. He didn’t know it would come in the form of his own player transforming himself into a human storm.
“The neat thing about watching Tanner that night was the different ways he ran the football,’’ Biehler said. “There were times that he had to run over people and stiff-arm them. But he also showed some elusiveness that you just don’t see in a kid his size. There were times he had to turn on his jets, like he had a second gear.’’
For Biehler, it didn’t seem like Wood was accumulating the rushing numbers he was. It was a methodical, relentless attack that included runs of 53, 78, 27, 36, 26, 23, 39, 31, 23, 21 and 71 yards, but also nine runs of four yards or fewer. So Chaparral did tackle him a few times.
Wood was Iron Man this season, on the field for nearly every snap at least while Conway Springs’ games were close. He was even his team’s punter, and turned three fake punts into touchdowns.
“I know there were times when he was on the field tired, especially on defense,’’ Biehler said. “But there were so many times when we needed him to make a stop.’’
Wood was invincible until Conway’s Class 3A second-round game against Garden Plain, when all of the pounding and hitting finally took a toll.
Wood will be healthy by the spring, though, and is excited about playing at Kansas State next season. He is often asked about the possibility of playing quarterback for Bill Snyder and without wanting to appear pushy, admits it appeals to him.
Wood has the size of current K-State and Heisman-hopeful quarterback Collin Klein, and he has even better speed. He also has a strong arm, having passed for 526 yards during his Conway Springs career. That’s a decent number considering the Cardinals rarely throw.
Biehler sees some of Klein in Wood. So does Burke, Chaparral’s coach.
“They really look a lot alike,’’ he said. “I think Coach (Bill) Snyder knows what to do when he gets a good player.’’
Wood admitted the idea of playing quarterback at K-State has crossed his mind.
“If that were to arise,’’ he said, “I would jump at it. But if it doesn’t, I won’t be disappointed.’’
Wherever he is on the field, Wood will make a difference.