Wood's bumpy ride at Notre Dame comes to an end

Wood's bumpy ride at Notre Dame comes to an end
January 14, 2013, 5:59 pm
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Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood announced Monday he will enter the NFL Draft, closing the book on four up-and-down years in South Bend.

"Cierrehas been an important member of our football team in my three years at NotreDame and I appreciate all he did to help get our program back on top," NotreDame coach Brian Kelly said in a statement released by the team. "I wish him well in the future and hope hehas a successful playing career at the next level."

Rated as a four-star prospect from Oxnard, Calif., Wood committed to Notre Dame while the Charlie Weis regime was still in place. He got to campus in 2009 expecting to make an impact right away, but much to his disappointment rode the bench all season.

"I really didn't want to be here, because who really wants to if you're not playing," Wood told CSNChicago.com in 2011. He added: "I never lost my love of the game, I just wanted to take my talents somewhere else."

A few factors helped keep Wood at Notre Dame following his freshman season, though. First and foremost was the firing of Charlie Weis, and beyond that, a close relationship with Manti Te'o helped the linebacker push Wood to remain in South Bend.

Wood viewed a new coaching staff as an opportunity to prove himself -- something he'd have to do if he transferred anyways -- and used that as motivation to force his way up Notre Dame's depth chart. And having Te'o at his side helped restore the swagger Wood lacked in 2009.

"I'm a linebacker, I mean, I couldn't tell him how to run the ball," Te'o said. "I just gave him points on how to gain the confidence that he once had that got him here."

In 2010, Wood led Notre Dame in rushing attempts and yards, getting a long look after Armando Allen was lost for the season in late October. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry and also caught 20 passes for 170 yards, offering a glimpse of the breakout season he went on to have in 2011.

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As Notre Dame's feature back, Wood rushed 217 times for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns in his junior season. He had at least 20 carries in five of Notre Dame's 13 games, and only had single-digit carries in one game -- that being Oct. 22 against USC, in which fellow running back Jonas Gray only had four carries.

But just when it looked like Wood was at the top of his game, he was forced out of it. He was hit with a two-game suspension to begin the 2012 season, and he quickly lost his No. 1 running back job to close friend and roommate Theo Riddick.

"Not playing was terrible," Wood said. "You practice all summer, put in so much work and so much time, and to not play those first two games was heartbreaking."

Wood finished the 2012 season with 114 carries, five fewer than he had his sophomore year. He gained 742 yards, though, featuring runs of 62 and 68 yards against Oklahoma and Wake Forest, respectively.

His first big game of 2012 came Oct. 6 against Miami, in which he carried 18 times for 118 yards with two touchdowns. After the game, Wood said it was only a matter of time before he had a game like that -- just as long as the touches came his way.

"I was past overdue," Wood explained. "When I say it's just a matter of when I get the ball and stuff like that, I know I can ball out and I can make plays almost every play. It's just a matter of when the opportunity presents itself."

Confidence certainly wasn't the issue for Wood in 2012. This is the same guy who said of Te'o: "He thinks he can guard me, but he cant. I dont care how good he is, he cant guard me."

Wood finished his final season with Notre Dame averaging a career-best 6.5 yards per carry, a number he certainly was proud of. It lent itself to more confidence -- even if Wood's carries were cut.

While Wood's decision to leave reportedly weighed heavily on his desire to support his 1-year-old daughter, he's also leaving a less-than-ideal situation behind in South Bend. With George Atkinson III returning, Amir Carlisle and Will Mahone ready to contribute and a pair of highly-touted recruits coming to campus, Notre Dame's running back depth chart will be crowded in 2013.

Wood would've been Notre Dame's best running back next year, but it's also worth noting he was probably Notre Dame's best running back in 2012. And that didn't stop him from seeing single-digit carries in five of his 11 games.

In a statement released by the team, Wood was appreciative of the support he received during his time at Notre Dame.

There are so many people I need to thank that have helped get me to this point," Wood said. "My teammates are friends I know Ill have the rest of my life. Ill miss hanging out with them in the locker room and around campus. They are a great group of guys and are poised for success next year.

I also want to thank all of the coaches, specifically Coach Kelly and Coach Alford. Coach Kelly has the program heading in the right direction and Im happy to know hell remain our head coach in the future. Coach Alford has been so much more than a coach to me. Hes been a mentor and a role model. Hes helped turn me into the man I am today.

Lastly, I want to thank the school, our fans and the extended Notre Dame family. The love and appreciation youve shown me in my four years can never be repaid. Ill always remember the ovation I received as I ran out of the tunnel on senior day and I cant thank you enough.

Per Irish Illustrated, Wood is projected as a mid-round pick in April's NFL Draft, although he could certainly improve that position with good showings at the combine and during workouts over the next few months. The talent is there, and as long as the confidence is too, Wood has the chance to carve out a solid career in the NFL.

"I believe there isnt nobody out there that can tackle me, there isnt nobody out there that I havent faced that Im not better than," Wood boasted in October. "So with that being said, I go into every run that I get or every play, period, thinking that Im the baddest."