It was a week later than expected, but Jelani Woods has officially arrived.
The transfer tight end from Oklahoma State missed a significant portion of Virginia’s season-opening game against William & Mary dealing with a minor injury, likely leg cramps. He left the game after recording just one reception for five yards on only two targets.
Ahead of week two, UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall said Woods was “good to go” for the game against Illinois.
Just a few minutes after the 11am kickoff on Saturday, Woods had already emerged as the newest star in the Virginia football program.
Brennan Armstrong targeted Woods on the first play from scrimmage and, after bobbling the ball for a moment, Woods hauled it in for a 31-yard reception in the middle of the field. Three plays later, Armstrong found Woods again in the seam on a 32-yard touchdown strike.
In two plays, Woods recorded 63 receiving yards and a touchdown to give the Hoos the lead just over a minute into the game.
The 6’7”, 265-pound junior finished with five receptions for 122 yards, career marks for Woods by a wide margin. As reported by Mike Barber, the 122 yards was the most by a Cavaliers tight end since Heath Miller in 2003.
Woods was originally recruited to Oklahoma State as a quarterback after a standout high school career in which he recorded over 2,000 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. After redshirting his first season in Stillwater, Woods switched to tight end and hauled in 16 receptions for 112 yards and a touchdown and was an All-Big 12 honorable mention in 2019. In 2020, he recorded eight receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown before entering the transfer portal and ultimately committing to play for Bronco Mendenhall at Virginia.
When Woods earned his jersey number in fall camp, he chose the number zero as a reference to the number of people who could stop him.
After a frustrating and brief debut last week, Woods burst onto the scene in week two. His 122 receiving yards against Illinois surpassed his season receiving yard total of 112 yards for Oklahoma State in 2019 and nearly equaled his season total of 129 yards in 2020.
In the postgame press conference, Bronco Mendenhall noted the matchup challenge that Woods poses to opposing defenses. “The first challenge is who do you match up with,” Mendenhall said. “If you choose to put a linebacker on him, and most likely he's not as fast, and there aren't many linebackers that are over six foot six. Then if you choose the secondary route, there's not many secondary players that are six- seven, and they might be fast but they probably don't weigh 250. And so really there's a matchup issue, no matter what direction you go.”
Woods was a matchup catastrophe for the Fighting Illini on Saturday, collecting receptions of 31 yards, 32 yards, 18 yards, 13 yards, and 28 yards. He hauled in five receptions on six targets for an astounding average of 24.4 yards per catch.
Mendenhall selected Woods to have the honor of breaking the rock following the win against Illinois.
“That was just pretty much the best moment of my life right there, you know being able to have an outstanding performance and just be recognized for that,” Woods said. “Just the history of the guys that previously before me broke the rock. I just feel honored to be able to hold the hammer and break the rock.”
This is just the beginning for what could be an incredible season for Jelani Woods and the Virginia offense.