NORMAN — Two days before two-a-days began, Austin Woods was getting another chemotherapy treatment. He needed a day to recover. Then the next day, the first day of football practices, he was on the field with his Oklahoma teammates.
The junior center — who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma during the spring — only missed two practices during summer workouts. He didn’t miss because he was tired or sick. He missed because he had to go for another treatment.
“Some days are definitely harder than others,” Woods said Tuesday as he stood in his socks while talking to media for the first time since his diagnosis, “but I just wanted to keep the right mindset and attack every day.”
Woods first realized something was wrong when the glands in his neck were constantly swollen during spring practice. He went to OU’s athletic trainer, Scott Anderson, and asked if it was normal. Anderson told him no.
Woods went through tests. It wasn’t mononucleosis. It wasn’t strep throat. He got poked with the needle so many times it no longer bothered him. Then he saw an oncologist.
By then, the thought had crossed his mind that it may be cancer.
When he found out, Woods’ first thought was, “When can I play football again?”
Now only four treatments remain. One is on Friday. Woods will be injected with an inch-long needle and sit in a chair at the Stephenson Cancer Center in Oklahoma City for four hours while toxins get pumped through his body. He will do this every two weeks and should be done around Oct. 1. He said he will travel with the team when they go to El Paso for the Sept. 1 opener against UTEP.
He hasn’t gone through this alone. Woods’ mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was 5. She or Woods’ father have been at every treatment with him. His first treatment, his mom and Woods’ best friend, offensive lineman Bronson Irwin, sat through the entire treatment with him.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Woods was told, is just a bad “luck of the draw,” and it hasn’t run anywhere else in his family.
Originally, he wasn’t going to play football this season. He was going take a redshirt, but he trained himself to have a tough mind, through workouts and through treatments. He became an inspiration and said that’s what he wants to be — he wants to show his teammates that days can be tough, but if they work together, they can get through it.
“When I got diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I decided I was going to take a fighters’ mentality approach to it and I was going to be there with my teammates,” Woods said. “They’re all really important to me and we’re all brothers on this team.
“I wanted to take the approach that I was going to be there for them as much as I could, and thankfully God’s given me the ability to stay healthy through the whole process of chemo. It hasn’t knocked me down too much.”
Woods handled the treatments so well, only missing those two days, that the doctors told him it was his decision whether or not to return to the field this year.
“You know, since I invested and went through summer workouts I decided I’m going to go ahead and play,” Woods said. “I’m able and ready to play football this year and that’s what I decided to do.”
He always told himself he’d be able to play football again. Sitting out was a thought he would not let cross his mind.
“I love football,” Wood said. “I love my teammates. I love the University of Oklahoma and football is the first thing on my mind.”