Meet Your Illini: Defensive End D.J. Woods

Some freshmen get a chance for playing time their first season, but most redshirt and work to develop their skills for future opportunities. If they play behind established upperclassmen, they must wait their turn. That has been true for D.J. Woods. The defensive end began to make a name for himself in the spring, but he must beat out two older players.

D.J. Woods, whose first name is Dejazz, came to Illinois as an undersized defensive end. He worked hard to increase his size and strength, and he began to enjoy the benefits during spring ball.

"It feels real good. I just want to work hard and get better, try to work on my technique. I'm still a freshman, and I've put on a lot of weight at my position. I'm just trying to get better every day.

"I've put on about 45 pounds. On my official visit, I was at 207. I came back at 217, and now I'm like 260."

Is there an adjustment period after gaining so much weight?

"A little bit. When you put on as much weight like that, you can get a little tight. So it's a matter of stretching. I stretch a lot. I still have the same speed."

The winter was beneficial for the Sports Management major in many ways, but the weather required adaptation.

"Yes sir. The lows in Florida in the summer are about 75 degrees. And the lows here can get down to the negatives. It was an extreme adjustment. I'm accustomed to it now. "

At least, the Illini winter conditioning program helped take his mind off the weather.

"Winter conditioning was a new experience. At the same time, I like to compete against each other because it makes both of us better. So I loved the winter conditioning because it made us all better by competing."

It also helped his psyche to travel to Houston in December for the bowl game even though he had to watch from the sideline.

"I loved the Texas Bowl. It was a great experience. Hopefully, next year we work hard to get past that level and go to a better bowl."

The Tampa athlete knew he would be redshirting from the start last fall. He was pleased to show what he could do this spring.

"It's going real great. I'm just getting into the groove with the plays, trying to get off the ball faster, just work on basic technique. If you take care of those little things, you should be okay. That's what my coach teaches me."

Woods was mired deep on the depth chart to begin spring practices. Juniors Whitney Mercilus and Glenn Foster were 1-2 there, with sophomore Tim Kynard beginning to press them. Woods may have been the only fourth stringer on the entire team as there were serious depth issues elsewhere.

But then Kynard was tried at Bandit, and Mercilus mashed a finger in the weight room. It gave Woods a chance to show coaches what he could do.

"It's crazy. One day you have four defensive ends, and the next day you only have two. Staying healthy is the key.

"I actually enjoyed the reps a lot. Just learning technique, lining up in the right gap, whatnot. It was a pleasure to get some more reps."

For those who haven't seen the 6'-3" Woods play, he described his assets at defensive end.

"Probably my hand placement and my get-off. I get off the ball pretty quick, and I know how to place my hands in the right position."

Woods saw both himself and the team improve during the spring.

"Coach (Ron) Zook is real good about teaching us to play fast, but at the same time play smart. That's what we did all spring."

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