Donnie Woods was sitting through a class — one so nondescript he can’t remember what it was — more than a year ago when he had an epiphany.
The grounded, straight-talking Maryland offensive lineman was mentally lobbing ideas about his future. Football wouldn’t last forever. Heck, there were no guarantees it would last beyond college.
So regardless of his state of mind — and Woods can’t quite recall what it was, either — the left guard realized he could simultaneously sate both his long-term career plans and his patriotic streak by exploring a stint in the military, perhaps in the army.
“When I made the decision, I was so excited,” Woods said. “It was like this spark, this fire was inside of me. I was like ‘I don’t know if I can wait two years to do that.’ ”
The yearning is so strong, Woods will give up his final year of football eligibility. Instead of returning to the Terrapins for a fifth season — usually hailed by coaches as the best of a lineman’s career — Woods plans to complete his criminology and criminal justice degree this summer.
It means Maryland’s Dec. 29 meeting with Purdue in the Champs Sports Bowl will be the redshirt junior’s final game. And while football has been a significant part of Woods’ life, he is eager to embark on something with greater personal meaning.
“Just serving my country is something I always wanted to do,” said Woods, whose brother Sean already has served two tours in Iraq. “Kind of with the injuries and everything adding up, I felt like this was the best time for me to come out right now. I’m going to get my degree. It’ll be the best time in my life to do something like that.”
Up and down
Woods’ career already had endured some twists when he arrived a semester early at Maryland in 2003. He was a highly sought-after prospect out of high school, but offers from Oklahoma and Tennessee were rescinded after he tore an ACL his senior season.
Other schools stuck with him, including Florida State, before he eventually chose Maryland.
“You learn real quick, especially when you get hurt like I did, that it’s a business,” Woods said. “I still feel strongly about that. You go from having phone calls every night and people sending you private jets to take you on official visits to one or two phone calls a night and everybody saying they can’t take you anymore.”
Woods subsequently validated the Terps’ commitment. He was the team’s top-rated offensive lineman a year ago even as he played with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
The injury eventually forced him to undergo surgery and miss spring practice, making his ability to thrive while playing through pain even more impressive. He has made 21 career starts, including 10 this year and 10 in 2005.
“He’s a very passionate person,” said guard Garrick Clig, one of Woods’ closest friends. “If I could put one word into Donnie Woods, it would be tough. He’s been someone that’s overcome a lot of things, also. He’s not really the ideal type of player that they wanted, but then again he came in and started how many games the last two and a half years?”
Woods ranked second among Maryland’s regular linemen this season, though it was a tumultuous year. Despite his strong play, Woods gradually yielded playing time to Jaimie Thomas, taking about two-thirds of the snaps Oct. 21 against N.C. State before alternating series with the sophomore the next two weeks.