STILLWATER — Now that I know more about the Jelani Woods position-switch process, my respect for Oklahoma State’s third-year sophomore Cowboy back is at a maximum level.
As a high school football athlete in the Atlanta area, Woods chose to play at Oklahoma State after having considered offers from several schools that included South Carolina, Michigan, Louisville and Kansas State.
Woods had been a 6-foot-7, 225-pound quarterback for a team that captured a Georgia state championship. During the night before OSU’s 2016 spring game, and one week after having attended South Carolina’s spring game, he announced his commitment to the Cowboys.
Woods arrived in Stillwater with two goals: to quarterback the Cowboys and, ultimately, to quarterback an NFL squad.
“By the ninth grade,” Woods recalls, “my high school coach had me believing that I would be an elite quarterback.”
Woods’ football life changed in December 2017. Oklahoma State signed Spencer Sanders, a highly regarded high school quarterback and the Texas Gatorade Player of the Year. At the same time, OSU was nearing the end of Mason Rudolph’s three-plus-season run as its starting QB.
On deck was Taylor Cornelius, who was on the verge of becoming a fifth-year senior. Cornelius knew the Mike Gundy-Mike Yurcich system just about as thoroughly as Gundy and Yurcich themselves.
Then the Cowboy offensive coordinator, Yurcich approached Woods with a proposal: “Would you consider moving to the Cowboy back position?” Since 2015, OSU tight ends have been known as Cowboy backs.
If this had happened with 100 other college quarterbacks, 99 of them would have been unhappy and 95 would have transferred.
Woods was the exception.
“Coach Yurcich presented the idea to me,” he remembers. “He said I could think about it and talk with my parents.”
Woods didn’t need much time for the contemplation of such a big move. Less than five minutes after the position-switch possibility was mentioned, there was a decision.
“Yeah,” Woods told Yurcich. “I’ll do it.”
“The main idea was, I wanted to play,” Woods explained on Saturday night, after Oklahoma State defeated McNeese 56-14. “I’ve got a love for the game. I wanted to be on the field and I wanted to help the team.”
During the same weekend of the Antonio Brown fiasco, as the NFL’s ultimate diva schemed himself out of Oakland and onto the New England Patriots’ roster, Woods said this: “I wanted to be on the field and I wanted to help the team.”
How refreshing is that?
Woods is targeted only occasionally, having totaled seven catches last season. He scored touchdowns against Iowa State and Texas. He can catch the football, Gundy says, but the ability to block could open doors at the NFL level. Woods’ current weight is 267 pounds.
“If he was my size,” Gundy said, “he would probably still be a quarterback.”
The Cowboy backs are coached by Jason McEndoo, himself a former offensive lineman. In the season-opening victory at Oregon State, Woods’ blocking was so good that you didn’t need a replay to know it. It was obvious as it happened, and he was a factor in Chuba Hubbard’s 221-yard rushing performance.
McEndoo, Gundy says, “leans heavy on teaching (Woods) how to block because that’s where he’s going to make his money. His willingness and ability to block could potentially get him to play this game for quite a while.
“You’re talking about a kid who never misses class, never shows up late, never fails any of the drug tests (and) does everything right. He fits our culture perfectly.”
As a quarterback, Woods occupied the most celebrated position in team sports. As a Cowboy back, he’s essentially a third offensive tackle on most plays.
When the 2-0 Cowboys visit the University of Tulsa for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. contest, he’ll wear jersey No. 89 while most OSU fans are focused on numbers like 3 (Sanders), 30 (Hubbard) and 2 (Tylan Wallace).
While Sanders gets the glory of quarterbacking the Cowboys, Woods says he savors dirty-work assignments like run-blocking and pass protection. It’s so impressive that he seems so cool about his role at Oklahoma State.