The Meteor-Like Season of Marlon Wood

It's not often that you meet a wide receiver who averages 69 yards per reception. But that's what happens when you sit down alongside Washington receiver and kick returner Marlon Wood. In his sophomore year of 2005, Wood soared though the Husky sky like a meteor before seeing his season disintegrate due to injury.

Marlon Wood produced two electrifying plays last year - and recently sat down with to describe them. The first came in September on national TV, as the Huskies played host the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and their Coach, Charlie Weis.

"Personally, I didn't think I was going to have a chance to play," said Wood. "But Coach (Eric) Yarber suddenly said `Marlon, come here! You're going in!' I wasn't really warmed up, but I just lined up there on the sidelines, ready to go in, and hiding behind Isaiah (Stanback). I was ducking my number so (Notre Dame) couldn't see - because obviously if they see a new number come in, they're going to think it's a trick play or something.

"Isaiah yelled `SHIFT!' so I spread out hoping that a linebacker was on me. But it was Tom Zbikowski and he was already ten to eleven yards off the ball anyway. So I thought, `Aw, this isn't going to work.' So I split out to the right side, and (at the snap) I took off. I thought that he was going to bump me a little bit. But he was still backpedaling. So I thought, `OK, he's too slow, I'm gonna go past this guy.'

"But the play was supposed to be that Isaiah throws it when I am twenty yards downfield," added Wood. "But I was looking back and the ball wasn't in the air. So I was like, `Uh-oh. Should I stop or should I keep going?' I wasn't sure if Isaiah was scrambling out or whatever, because I couldn't see. So I just kept running my fastest, trying to get away from the safety. And next thing I knew, I saw the ball in the air. I was like, `Oh my goodness, I don't think I can get that!' I don't know if anyone heard me, but I was screaming at myself while the ball was in the air, GO GET IT MARLON! GO GET IT!'

"To tell you the truth, my eyes were closed as it was a fully-extended catch. My hands were out, my head was back, my eyes were closed, and I felt something touch my hands. I pulled it in real quick. And since I was leaning so far forward, I stumbled a little bit, and got tackled. And all the players joked around with me (afterward) that I got caught. But please, that guy was too slow for that. He was ten to eleven yards off the ball and I still got past him."

The play covered 69 yards. It was the only reception Wood made all season.

The second spectacular effort that Wood made is the one people remember most. It was a sunny Saturday last October when No. 1 USC arrived in Husky Stadium to take on Washington. Wood had been waiting months for this moment. It had been over thirty years since his father Richard Wood had played linebacker for the USC Trojans. Now Marlon was about to play against his Dad's old team, and the anger was welling up inside.

Marlon Wood jogged onto the field toward the west end zone in preparation of receiving the opening kickoff. Setting up at the goal line, his body swayed side-to-side as he stared at the Trojan kicker and waited. Moments later, the kicker stepped forward and booted the football high and deep. Wood camped under it.

"I was hoping for a chance on that kick return to do something," said Wood. "I really wanted to do something to USC bad, because of what they did to my Dad. It's an old grudge - a family thing.

"The ball was kicked into the air, and everything just got quiet," he added. "I caught it and ran it out. As soon as Ty Eriks made that block, my eyes got so big (from the hole). The kicker messed me up a little bit, but as soon as I got out of that, around me I saw nothing but blurs. I was in the clear, but a USC player had an angle on me. I tried to weave him to slow him down a bit, and once I got straight again I thought I had passed him. Then all I saw was the goal line. I was running straight toward it. Next thing I knew, that guy grabbed me, horse-collared me, and pulled me down."

Like a comet, Marlon Wood had streaked through the Trojan defenders for a 92 yard return. But while 70,000 fans roared with joy, Wood lay on the field with a broken leg. His season was over.

"It didn't feel hurt," said Wood. "I was putting pressure on it as I was walking off the field. They were trying to rush me too quick, but I just wanted to test it out and see if I could move it. At first I thought it just was a sprained ankle, but it turned out to be worse than that... But I'm cool now, it's 100 percent."

Wood's kickoff return helped the Huskies stake an early lead. But led by the legendary talents of quarterback Matt Leinart and tailback Reggie Bush, USC eventually crushed Washington 51-24.

Wood was asked to expand on his anger toward USC.

"I know my Dad was the best player in USC history," he said. "The teams he played on, in '72, '73 and '74 are not as recognized as the recent USC Trojans. All those kinds of accolades were not given to my Dad. It's a family thing, you know. My Dad did not get the recognition from USC. I was upset when they took a long time to get my Dad noticed with the USC Hall of Fame. It took about thirty years. My Dad was the only player in USC history to be a First Team All-American for THREE years. Two of his teams won national championships. That was back in the day when freshmen couldn't play, like they do today. He wasn't recognized for the stuff he did until 2002 and 2003.

"It hurt seeing my Dad at home, knowing what he and his teams did, and not being recognized compared to the new times with Reggie Bush and all that. It hurt me. It hurt me seeing him be hurt by that. My Dad is not even in the Collegiate Hall of Fame, if you can believe it. I can't explain it. I wasn't there so I can't explain it. I didn't know much about it until a couple of years ago. I was looking at a couple of book/magazines that had, you know, the best (USC) players of all time, and my Dad wasn't even in it. Some of those guys in the book I never heard of and they never won any national championships. So I carried that with me in my heart. It's a family thing. I wanted to do something to USC when I played them."

Sometimes in life, people can lose the war but still take something priceless from a battle. That was the case for Marlon Wood when he took the opening kickoff and streaked like a meteor through the USC defenders for a 92-yard return. Wood concluded the interview by describing his Dad's reaction to that play.

"My Dad was in Husky Stadium and saw that play," said Wood. "He was definitely rooting for Washington. My sister said that my Dad started to cry when I made that runback. She said he got real tearful. And he still mentions it to me now. He says, `Son, you had that WHOLE Husky Stadium rockin'!'

"Even if I don't get to do anything else while at Washington," said Wood. "I got my chance to help the Huskies out as much as I could - and to see my Dad proud of me."
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories