Soldiering On

A Maryland lineman wants to cut short his promising football career to serve in the Army
January 08, 2007

CAN YOU be physically fit enough to play major-college football but not fit enough to fight in the war on terror? Maryland guard Donnie Woods knows that in his case the answer could be yes, and so he faces a doctor's examination this week with considerable trepidation. The 6'3", 289-pound redshirt junior stunned teammates and coaches two weeks ago when he announced his intention to forgo his senior season in order to enroll in the Army's Officer Candidate School. But Woods, a two-year starter, has been plagued by injuries since he blew out his knee as a senior at Tampa's Thomas Jefferson High. This season he's been hampered by a torn labrum in his left shoulder, as well as a concussion and a neck injury. "I'm probably one injury away from [the Army's] saying, 'No, I don't think so,'" he told The Washington Times last month.

Outside of Pat Tillman there have been very few recent instances of athletes leaving their sports to join the military. (Last summer Ryan Nickell, a linebacker at I-AA William & Mary, passed up his senior season to enter Air Force Officer Training School.) Woods, a criminology and criminal justice major whose ultimate goal is a career in the FBI or CIA, says he's excited about serving his country. But not everybody is so thrilled. "The shame of it is—and I told this to Donnie—next year would probably be his best year of ever playing football," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said last week before the Terps thumped Purdue 24--7 in the Champs Sports Bowl. "I don't know how much fun it is to have a bullet in you. I worry about that, I really do."

Woods, whose older brother Sean has served two tours in Iraq with the Army, hopes to begin Officer Candidate School late next summer. (OCS lasts for 14 weeks, after which Woods could be sent overseas.) In addition to passing his physical, Woods must earn his degree, which he is scheduled to do this summer. He also needs to lose some weight—69 pounds to be exact—in order to meet the Army's height and weight requirements. Still, he remains determined to get in fighting trim. "Nobody really truly understands what I'm doing," he said last month. "I know what I stand for, I know what this country stands for. I'm willing to sacrifice to fight for this country, to do what I think is right."

PHOTOCHRIS LIVINGSTON/ICON SMI (WOODS IN BOWL GAME)BLOCK PARTY Woods helped the Terps rush for 206 yards against the Boilermakers.