This story appeared in the Greater Houston edition of the November ESPN RISE Magazine.
Connor Wood never played football before he moved from Wichita, Kan., to Houston in 2001. Basketball was his game. But after seeing some of his new friends signing up for football a few months after the move, he decided to give the gridiron a shot.
The way his first practice went, nobody would have faulted him for heading right back to the hardwood.
For starters, it was pouring rain. Then the coach decided to test the players by having them do up-downs. Only Wood couldn't get past the first attempt because he landed smack dab in a pile of angry fire ants. So not only was his now-soaked uniform weighing him down like a ton of bricks, dozens of ants were biting him all over as well.
Let's just say getting tackled for the first time wasn't on his list of concerns that day.
"That wasn't a good start to my career," says Wood, laughing. "But I couldn't quit."
It's a good thing he didn't. Now a 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior at Second Baptist (Houston, Texas), Wood has turned himself into the nation's No. 14 quarterback in the ESPNU 150 and has committed to Texas, where he can focus on getting past Big 12 defenses instead of fire-ant piles.
Wood may have started playing football in the fourth grade, but it wasn't until the seventh grade that he got serious about becoming an elite signal-caller. At the time, his older brother, Jeff, was a standout senior quarterback for Second Baptist. Wood became intrigued by the position after watching Jeff dominate on Friday nights. Jeff, now a quarterback/punter at Texas A&M, gave his little brother advice about what it would take to one day play Division I football.
"He basically showed me the ropes of being a quarterback," says Wood. "Not just X's and O's, but how to be a leader and how to get them to follow you. He's been fundamental to my growth as a quarterback and as a man."
Wood has been a starter at Second Baptist since his freshman year and has improved every season thanks to an unyielding work ethic. Along with the basics of lifting weights and working on technique, he has taken his game to another level by becoming a movie buff.
By immersing himself in game film, Wood is able both to get a scouting report on his team's next opponent and to see what he did wrong the previous game. Wood views the game tape twice a week at home on a projector in his room and also three to four days a week during lunch with Second Baptist offensive coordinator Keith Blackmon.
After completing just 47.3 percent of his passes as a freshman, Wood upped his accuracy to 53.9 percent as a sophomore and 62.9 percent as a junior. Wood knows watching film is a big reason for his progression.
"It's a huge advantage to have," he says. "You can never watch too much film."
"He's a real student of football," adds Second Baptist head coach Mike Sneed. "One of the things that separates him from the other guys is he can look at things and analyze them."
Besides improving his accuracy, Wood has also turned himself into a dangerous dual-threat quarterback. As a sophomore, he was a TAPPS Division II All-State honorable mention selection after completing 152-of-282 passes for 2,200 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He added 389 yards and seven scores on the ground as the Eagles went 8-4, shared the district title and lost in the second round of the TAPPS playoffs.
Wood was again an All-State honorable mention pick his junior season on a Second Baptist team that captured the district crown outright before falling in the second round of state for the second straight year. Wood connected on 166-of-264 attempts last year for 2,248 yards, 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He also ran for 405 yards and 18 TDs.
"He's got prototypical size and has great feet and escapability," says Sneed, who's in his third season at Second Baptist. "It's amazing to watch three defensive linemen chase him down and he still completes a pass down the field. You think, 'Did he just do that?'"
While the numbers are nice, Wood's true value is in how he leads by example both on and off the field. In the classroom, he was an Academic All-State selection as a junior and has a 4.2 GPA. Under center, there's no one the Eagles would rather have -- well, other than Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, of course -- with the game on the line. As a sophomore, Wood capped a crucial comeback win against Concordia Lutheran by running for the game-tying touchdown in the third quarter and the game-winning touchdown in the fourth.
"He's inspiring," says senior center/defensive end Drew Sekaly. "He believes in us and we believe in him. He pulls other people to the top with him because he wants the whole team to succeed, not just him."
"He makes guys around him better because of his attitude and effort," adds Sneed. "He plays so hard, he expects others to as well."
Wood won't let up when he gets to Austin. He's on track to graduate high school in December and will enroll at Texas in January so he can compete for the starting quarterback spot, which will be open with the graduation of Colt McCoy. Wood will battle the likes of current UT freshman and 2008-09 Gatorade National Athlete of the Year Garrett Gilbert for QB1, and he doesn't plan on backing down.
"I definitely want to go compete for that job when I go in," says Wood. "I think that's what the coaches want. I love competing."
Just as long as there aren't any fire ants around.