Willie Wood Jr., Wilson High School's top pass receiver, is perhaps the best kept secret in the Interhigh.
"You gain little attention when you aren't winning," said Wilson Coach Horace Fleming, whose team is 1-5. "We have a lot of talented players on this team."
Indeed. The Tigers have quarterback Ray Boudreaux, who has passed for more than 100 yards in each game this fall. And running back Melvin Pickett, who earlier in the season rushed for a personal best 171 yards on 14 carries. And Wood.
Not even having the same name as his father, Willie Wood Sr., a former cornerback for the Green Bay Packers, has helped him gain recognition. Wood Jr. also has a brother, Andre, who played cornerback in the United States Football League.
"A lot of people don't know that I am Willie Wood's son," said Wood Jr., who plays cornerback and receiver. "The only people that know attend school with me or live in my neighborhood.
"My father left a legacy that would be hard to live up to," Wood continued. "There aren't many people out there who can duplicate what he did, so, if I do half as well, I'll be an above-average player."
Indeed, the script Wood Sr. left behind during his 12-year tenure with the Packers out of the University of Southern California is virtually impossible to act out. Wood, who retired in 1971, secured his place in the National Football League record book, earning five championship rings and appearing in the league's Pro Bowl five times. He later was a head coach in the Canadian Football League.
Wood Jr. commands similar attention and invokes a similar impact at Wilson. This fall, Wood, undersized (5 feet 9 and 157 pounds) but effective because of moves and athletic skills, has averaged seven tackles, including three solo, per game.
"I tend to have an advantage over many players in this area because I have a coach at school and one at home," said Wood, who was third on the team in tackles last fall (76) and had three interceptions to help Wilson to a 5-5 record.
"As for our team, I think we have a very good one, although our record of 1-5 doesn't prove it," Wood said. "Most of the teams outside the Interhigh are fundamentally sound and rely on precision execution -- offensively and defensively. We have problems because our offense keeps the defense on the field too long. That's really tiring.
"But I like playing football at Wilson. Coach Fleming stresses academics as much as football. I may dream about a professional football career, but I will fall back on a computer science degree."
"Willie Jr. is a very knowledgeable player," said Wood Sr. "I don't pressure him in any way. If he wants to play football, I support him. He knows he doesn't have to play because I did. I let all my children make their own decisions."
What's impressive about Wood is his savvy, instinct for the ball, and of course his speed and quickness (4.5 in the 40-yard dash), which allow him to cover the field sideline to sideline and destroy blocking angles. He also has a vertical jump of 33 inches.
"I want it to be known that Willie Wood Jr. is a cornerback first and a receiver second," said Fleming. "Although there's always room for improvement, Wood can't be beat at the cornerback position. He has improved immensely from last year."
Wood draws opponents' concern, too, when he makes the transition from defense to offense.
Wood this season has averaged a team-leading three receptions and 60 yards receiving per game. He has scored six touchdowns, including two in a 26-20 triple overtime loss to McKinley last weekend.
In the Tigers' 17-6 victory against Spingarn, Wood scored on receptions of 35 and 11 yards. Defensively, he made six tackles.
Against Georgetown Prep earlier, he caught four Boudreaux passes for 108 yards including touchdowns of 50 and 28 yards. Hardly his fault Wilson lost, 38-14. "Boudreaux and I have excellent chemistry," said Wood. "He seems to know where I am on the field at all times. It's almost like a sixth sense."
"Willie has excellent hands and a maturity unknown to most high school seniors," said Fleming. "If I had 10 players like him, we would kill teams with quickness.
"If he believes with all his heart," continued Fleming, "he will be a success at any endeavor he chooses. Although right now the most immediate thing is for us (Wilson) to get on a winning track."