Wooden Being Patient, For Now

Sophomore defensive back Ambrose Wooden admits he's got a lot to learn. The 5-11, 185-pound former wide receiver is just learning to play defensive back. The learning part has never been hard for Wooden as he's always been a bright student. Applying what he's learned to the field has been the big challenge, but Wooden says the light is starting to come on for him.

As a former quarterback, Ambrose Wooden set the career Maryland state record with 7,261 yards of total offense. He scored 46 touchdowns on the ground and chipped in with another 30 through the air in his high school career. He even punted and kicked for his team high school team.

Ambrose Wooden was used to having the ball in his hands. Now, he rarely sees the football as a defensive back just learning to play the position.

"That was really hard because I was so used to having that ball in my hands," Wooden said of his giving up the football for his new position at defensive back.

"I love the ball. I think once I get everything down on defense; that will make me want that ball even more—try to get that ball out. I can get the ball by taking it away and then I'll have my chance to do my thing and score."

Wooden came to Notre Dame as a wide receiver—another position that didn't come easy for him, either, but he says the switch to defense is starting to make sense to him now.

"It was hard in the beginning," Wooden said of switching to defensive back. "Receiver didn't always come easier, either. Defensive back was something I played a little in high school. I knew I had to work on the little things and then let the natural ability God gave me take over.

"I feel like a more natural defensive back now. I worked on it all summer at home and out here. Coach told me, when I get a chance, work on my backpedal. I did that all summer.

"Quentin Burrell told me that was the first thing he noticed when I got back was that my backpedal had improved a lot so that gave me a lot of confidence. It's not a natural thing to do and my coaches and teammates have been helping me try to get better."

Another big change for Wooden was the physical part of playing defense. The Baltimore, Md. native says he's trying to find that switch to turn on the physical side inside him.

"I'm used to trying to run away from people and now I have to have the mentality that I'm trying to knock this guy's head off," the former SuperPrep All-American said. "That has been change for me. I think I'm starting to hit a little bit. I need to start laying people out.

"That's one of the toughest things for me, trying to get used to tackling people all the time--form tackling and being in perfect position to be at your best. It's just something I need to keep working on.

"I think when I get that first really big hit, that's when I get that mentality. I think you need to have that first one where you know the guy doesn't want to get up. It might be in a game when you turn into a totally different person. Once that time comes I'll be able to let loose more and turn it on."

While Wooden isn't in the hunt for a starting corner position, he has been working at the nickel back position and could see some time on the field in the near future.

"Preston (Jackson) has been great trying to coach me up in case anything happens," Wooden said of playing the nickel. "I'm rotating in and trying to help anywhere I can. I really like it. I'm hoping to get in some reps this year."

The former Baltimore Sun all-Metro player of the year is used to being chased all over the field as a former quarterback. Now the sophomore says he's the one doing the chasing and it's not as easy as it looks.

"I think it's easier to play zone because you just play your responsibility and play where you need to be," Wooden said when asked how he's handling the man coverage part of defensive back. "In man, you have to react to a guy. It's all about reaction and you've got to jam this way or that way based on his reaction. That's another physical aspect you need to get used to.

"I've kind of tried to use some of the things I learned from coach Miles. The receivers will push off a little bit and that's what they do. So you've got to get used to that. You've got to just learn to overcome that. If you get beat once, one-play memory, that's what my Dad always tells me. You've just got to come back and be ready for the next play."

Wooden has had a lot of experience covering the Irish receivers in man coverage and he says two junior receivers give him the most fits.

"Maurice (Stovall) and Rhema (McKnight), they've been looking great," Wooden said. They're both going to have great years. Every guy has their day. Everyone is hard to guard, especially man-to-man. We've got some great receivers."

While Wooden is learning to play defensive back, the former two-time all-stater in both baseball and track will help the Irish on special teams.

"I'm doing a little kickoff, punt, punt return," Wooden said when asked what special teams he is involved with. "I'm rotating in as a returner. I'm on the kickoff team and punt team."

The sophomore cornerback seems satisfied with his role for now. He knows he has a lot to learn, but knowing Wooden, he won't be satisfied for long without seeing the field.

"I'm here to learn," he said. "I told the freshmen that I'm in the same shoes they are in. I might have a semester on them, but I'm in the same shoes they are in.

"I'm just learning on how to break on the ball and do the little things. The best man is going to play. As long as I have a fair chance, that's all I can ask for. I'm just going to work my hardest and see if I can get on the field. I'll get my chance and I'll be out there real soon."


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