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.