NORMAN — Derrick Woods arrived in Oklahoma last summer, finally ready to thrive in a new environment far from his rough, urban Los Angeles neighborhood.
Two days before the Sooners' season opener at UTEP, though, the freshman receiver received tragic news that required him to return home for a few days: His uncle, Rodney Freeman, was shot and killed in Woods' driveway.
“Losing my uncle was a big deal,” Woods said. “I was down. I was really down.
“I just had to realize what I'm here for and stay focused. (Coaches) didn't want me to get off track or anything like that. They just wanted me to keep pushing.”
In Sunday's Oklahoman, OSU beat writer Gina Mizell and I reported on the life changing — and sometimes life saving — impact college football can have on disadvantaged youths.
Woods, who redshirted during his first year in Norman, is a strong example of that.
“It's amazing how hungry kids are,” said OU co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell, who recruited Woods. “The opportunity to come to college and get a scholarship changes lives. It not only changes their lives, but their families' lives and the lives of kids in their community.
“Derrick Woods goes back home wearing all his Oklahoma stuff; some other kids are seeing that, and they want to do better because of Derrick.”
Woods chose OU over offers from Cal and USC, and said his choice stemmed largely from a desire to get away, but also feel at home because of the other Californians on the team.
“I wanted to get away from home, but at the same time, not be too far away from it,” Woods said. “By that, I mean, by coming here, I'm with guys who are from California. So it feels like home to me.
“At the same time, I wanted to get away from the whole home setting. I didn't want to be too close to home for distractions or anything like that.”
Woods admitted being a little bummed when coaches initially told him that he'd redshirt during the 2012 season, but said he quickly came to embrace his important scout-team role.
After the regular season, coach Bob Stoops announced Woods as one of the team's Scout Team Players of the Year.
Next year, playing time seems there for Woods to grab; Oklahoma's top two leading receivers from 2012 — Kenny Stills and Justin Brown — are gone, creating an opportunity for Woods.
Based on Woods' determination to escape his difficult past, and his strong scout-team performance, it's easy to assume that he'll seize enhanced opportunities as a second-year Sooner.
“Just a sweet, sweet family and a great kid,” Norvell said. “Out of all our kids, he probably appreciates the opportunity he has more than anybody.”