After leading the Dayton Dust Devils to their most successful season in history, quarterback Travis Wood is going to follow his heart.
The 17-year-old Wood said Thursday that he had joined the Nevada Wolf Pack as a preferred walk-on.
"I've spent a lot of time with him and seen him develop into an awesome player," said fifth-year Dayton coach Rick Walker, whose Dust Devils went 10-1 last year, losing 21-19 to Virgin Valley in the Class 3A state semifinals. "He's a leader on and off the field. I know he'll work hard for it.
"He's not getting a scholarship, but if he has a chance to prove himself, I have confidence he can do it. I know it's as low on the depth chart as he's been in his life."
And that's just fine with the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Wood, who said he passed up opportunities with several Division III schools as well as a couple of junior colleges, including Butte, in Oroville, Calif., and the City College of San Francisco.
After becoming a starter for the varsity team with two games left in his freshman year, Wood went on to pass for 6,335 yards - the all-time record for career passing yards for all classifications in the state of Nevada - and 57 touchdowns.
"I pretty much decided I wanted to be a Division I quarterback after my sophomore year," said Wood, who also played safety for the Dust Devils. "I had a pretty successful season. Ever since then it's been a goal."
Although Nevada graduated senior quarterbacks Jeff Rowe and Travis Moore, Wood will have plenty of competition at the position. Redshirt sophomore Nick Graziano is expected to be the Wolf Pack's starter and saw limited playing action last season for the Nevada, which lost to Miami, 21-20, in the MPC Computers Bowl, in Boise, Idaho, and finished the season 8-5.
Colin Kaepernick, a 6-foot-6 freshman, is also expected to challenge Graziano, as will Luke Collis, of Pasadena, Calif., whom Nevada recently signed. Collis played for St. Francis High School, in La Canada, Calif., where he passed for more than 2,000 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Golden Knights in his senior season.
For his part, Wood was a three-sport athlete for Dayton, playing baseball as a freshman and sophomore and started all four years for the basketball team.
"They're giving me a chance and I'm taking it," Wood said of the Wolf Pack. "I realize I probably won't get a chance to play for a couple of years and that's all right with me. They have a great weight program and I'll be able to develop that way."
Walker is impressed that Wood is taking a shot with no guarantees of playing time and no scholarship money.
"That says a lot about the kid," Walker said. "I've talked to a couple of different coaches and there's no doubt in my mind that if he sets a goal, he'll achieve it. He works hard and he's a smart kid. As a freshman he showed poise in the pocket and would take the shot. He's gotten faster and stronger. It's a great statement. I've never been in this situation before (as a coach) and it's kinda neat."
In addition to being able to stay in the pocket, Wood also displayed good mobility, which would fit in well in Nevada coach Chris Ault's innovative "Pistol" offense, where the quarterback has the option to either hand off to a running back, pass or run the ball himself.
"I like it," Wood said of the formation. "Nobody else really does it. I've watched it the last couple of years. It's like a shotgun with a running back and a quarterback. It's real deceptive. It's definitely a quarterback-made offense."
"I think it's a great offense for him," Walker said. "I heard a couple of coaches were concerned with his arm strength, but I don't know what film they were watching. He's a real student of the game. That cliché is him. He does the little things well. He fits that (offense) very well. He has the mobility and toughness to fit the situation.
"He can drop back and pass or sprint out very well. You can't teach that to kids. He'll wait till the last second and take the shot. He's shown that from day one. As a safety for us, he was a tough kid. He delivers the shot. It's great news for Dayton. I'm very proud of him."
Wood's track record at Dayton was impressive. The team started last season 10-0 after never before opening even 3-0. It beat Truckee for the first two times and Spring Creek for the first time. Wood, who also punted for the Dust Devils, was a big part of all that success, which included being part of the school's first playoff wins.
"I'm excited. I can't wait to get out there," Wood said. "It's a great opportunity. There's no juniors or seniors at quarterback. There's three (other) guys now. It's going to be a battle, I guess. I don't expect to play this year, but it would be awesome if somehow it got to that point this year. Next year, I'll just go from there."
Wood said he will take pride in bringing his experience as a Dust Devil to Mackay Stadium.
"I had a great high school experience," Wood said. "The school's been great to me. We've been pretty successful (in football and basketball). We didn't win a state championship, but we paved the way. We gave it our all. Walker was a great coach for the last four years. He gave me a chance as a freshman. He kept me in there, even during the bad times."
Now Wood is looking forward to the good times that come with pursuing one's dreams.