LOS ANGELES -- The fact that USC wide receiver Robert Woods is an ESPN All-American does not come as a major surprise.
The sophomore had a fantastic season with 111 catches -- a single-season record for the Pac-12 conference, which has seen some pretty good receivers through the years. Woods had a USC single-game record with 17 catches against Minnesota and had 10 or mores catches in each of four games this season.
What made that level of production really impressive, however, was the fact Woods did it all while battling ankle and shoulder injuries throughout the season.
The ankle problem first popped up last spring after a pickup basketball game, and it simply lingered all summer and through the fall. The shoulder first became an issue during the season, and the combination of the two injuries impacted the way coach Lane Kiffin was able to use Woods in practice, because he wanted to keep the player as fresh as possible.
Woods never used the injuries as an excuse, and he didn't miss any significant time while playing a critical role in the offensive arsenal that helped lead the way to a 10-2 season.
"He's a special player," Kiffin said. "He just works so hard. You could tell he wasn't 100 percent out there, but you wouldn't know it with him. He just prepares well and then goes out there and plays every play so hard. This is a guy who wants to be great."
That work ethic is a common theme when people talk about Woods. Going back to his high school days, it is the first thing coaches mention when talking about what makes him so good. It was one of the first things Kiffin noticed as well when Woods was a freshman. Kiffin marveled at how Woods always had his head in a playbook during any spare moments of fall camp.
John Jackson is a former wide receiver at USC who has followed Woods since his days at Gardena Serra (Calif.) High School, and he is not surprised to see so much early success and recognition.
"This work ethic is part of who he is," Jackson said. "He didn't just all of a sudden develop it. It's one of the reasons his teammates and coaches like him so much because they can appreciate a guy who's worked for it.
"Because he works so hard he is also able to maintain a level of consistency. A lot of receivers disappear once the defense adjusts to what they are doing or starts double-teaming them. Woods never gets frustrated, he just goes out there and gets the job done."
That kind of work ethic translates to the "little things," the details that turn a good player into a great player. Everyone notices the player who makes the big catch -- and Woods certainly made his share of those -- but what's not always noticed is the key block or the pass routes that are run the same no matter whether he is a decoy or the play is designed for him.
"There was one play this year when he had a bad shoulder, the play was going the other way but it came back around and he had to throw a block. He hit the linebacker with his sore shoulder and then immediately went downfield to look for another guy to block. It was a completely selfless play and very indicative of Robert Woods."
The next step for Woods will come in 2012, when he will look to take his game to an even higher level. There will almost certainly be more records along the way. He is tied with Mike Williams for sixth place on the USC career receiving list (176, and he's on pace to catch Dwayne Jarrett's mark of 216 midway through next season).
No matter what happens, you can be sure Woods will be there working hard and showing the same kind of effort that led to his All-American selection in the first place.
Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.