Record day helps Woods honor sister

October, 20, 2012
10/20/12
11:16
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- After he made his record-breaking touchdown catch Saturday night, the first image that flashed before Robert Woods' eyes as he looked down for the ball was that of his wrists.

[+] EnlargeRobert Woods
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesA reminder of how Robert Woods' sister Olivia would cheer him on can be found on his wrists. Olivia died of cancer in 2007.
They are the last things he looks at before he takes the field and have been since he was a sophomore in high school.

Woods will sit in front of his locker before games, tape his wrists and take out a black marker from his gym bag and draw a large "O" on each wrist with a crucifix in the center.

The pregame ritual is Woods' way of honoring his sister Olivia, who died of cancer on April 19, 2007, when she was 17. Robert, who was a year younger than Olivia, was a sophomore at Serra High in Gardena, Calif., when she succumbed to her five-year battle with the disease.

As Woods stood in the end zone after breaking USC's career receptions record, he looked down at the familiar drawings on his wrists, then looked up and smiled as he raised the football to the one person with whom he wished he could share the moment.

"After I scored the touchdown, everything was calm for me," Woods said. "I looked at my wrists and I saw my sister's name and I pointed up. I just thank God for allowing me to play for her and through her. I had to give her some glory, too."

When Woods, who finished with eight catches for 132 yards and four touchdowns, was later shown on the video board at the Coliseum after becoming the first Trojan to catch four touchdown passes in a game, he pointed to his wrists and pointed to the sky again.

"I always put her on my wrist tape as a reminder that she's always with me," Woods said. "My mom likes it as well so I'm going to keep doing it. It's a reminder that my sister still lives on through me."

Woods always knew he wanted to be a receiver when he was growing up in Gardena. His father and grandfather each played college football and when Robert would go grocery shopping with mother, Sharon, he would throw fruit up in the air and catch it as if he was in the corner of the end zone.

His biggest cheerleader was always his sister. Despite going through treatment for cancer, she would go to every one of his games and yell his name after every catch.

"She would be the only voice I would hear in the crowd," Woods said. "She would always yell, 'Let's go, Robert!'"

Olivia was the biggest reason Woods decided to go to Serra High. Many kids in Woods' neighborhood usually end up going to Narbonne or Carson and Woods could have also gone to Banning like his father, Robert Woods Sr. But since his sister chose Serra, that's where he wanted to go as well. Of course, Serra is where Woods would eventually meet and become teammates with Marqise Lee and George Farmer, who would later follow him to USC.

"I wanted to be with her at Serra," Woods said. "If she didn't go there, I would have gone somewhere else. I might have gone to Los Alamitos with my cousin."

The first thing players and coaches say about Woods is he doesn't play or act his age. They've been saying that about him since he was in high school. He became one of the top prep players in the Southland during his sophomore year at Serra, catching 43 passes for 801 yards and seven touchdowns while making eight interceptions as a defensive back. And last year as a sophomore at USC, he caught 111 passes for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns.

"He is beyond his years," said USC receivers coach Tee Martin. "God is smiling on a kid like that. I'm so blessed to have the opportunity to be in his life. Robert has had some tough things that have happened to him in his life and he's the kind of kid that you want good things to happen to him in his life because you know what he's been through. He doesn't complain about anything. As a coach you don't normally say this, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for him."

Woods was forced to become an adult after the death of his sister. He went from being a baby brother to an only child and was expected to act like a man before he was old enough to drive.

"Things got a lot stricter when I became the only child," Woods said. "My parents were constantly on me and making sure I was doing the right things. It was something that just came along with it."

When Woods was at home watching football games with his sister, he would watch USC receivers like Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett, Keary Colbert and Steve Smith. He always wanting to be just like them and play in the Coliseum, never dreaming he would pass them in the record books midway through his junior year.

"I grew up watching all those receivers ever since I understood USC football," Woods said. "As I accomplished what I did today, I don't see myself above them, I just see myself being a part of them in an elite group. I'm just following in their footsteps to be a great receiver at USC."

Olivia's final words to Robert before she passed were to "be a role model." She always envisioned her brother playing in front of thousands of people one day in college and later the NFL. When Woods caught his final touchdown of the day after setting two USC receiving records, he smiled as he looked up into the crowd and saw kids and adults wearing his No. 2 jersey.

"I'm going out there and actually living what her last words to me were," Woods said. "Everything she lived for and fought for, it was kind of like a breakthrough. I felt that I had made it just to be along with that group of guys."

As Woods exited the Coliseum to have dinner with his father and mother, he looked up and smiled again, thinking of the one person he wished he could share the moment with.

"I know she would be proud me," Woods said. "I'm just trying to be a role model like she told me to be."

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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