Wood and Dayton looking to make more history
Appeal Sports Writer
Having started out the Northern 3A football season 7-0, defeating Spring Creek and Truckee, and positioning themselves to win the regular season crown and ensure homefield advantage throughout the regional playoffs for the first time in school history, it’s hard not to look on the Dayton Dust Devils as a team of destiny.
And when taking a close look at the Dust Devils’ Travis Wood, the team’s quarterback, strong safety and punter, it’s also hard not to wonder if the multi-talented senior is destined to go places where even your not-so-average kid from Dayton is supposed to go.
“For starters,” says James Yeater, a wide receiver for the Dust Devils, “he’s the best quarterback in Nevada, I believe.”
Notice that Yeater doesn’t qualify his assessment of Wood with a reference to 3A football alone. After all, Wood is believed to have broken the state record for career passing yards – for any football classification.
Wood has passed for more than 5,500 yards and 50 touchdowns since starting two games for the varsity team as a freshman and shows no signs of slowing down.
“He reads the defense very well,” Yeater says. “He knows what he’s talking about and always seems to get the job done. You can trust him. He’s dependable and will get the job done whether it’s a math assignment or throwing a touchdown.”
Or for that matter, getting the tackle or two interceptions, as he did Saturday in Dayton’s 13-7 victory over the Wolverines in Truckee, Calif.
“From the very beginning – since he was a starter on the JV then started as a freshman for the varsity – he and (running back) Erik (Hopper) toyed with a lot of teams because they were so far ahead with their ability,” says Dayton coach Rick Walker, who has taken it upon himself to turn the Dust Devils around from being a team with a consistent losing record to a winner that is to be reckoned with.
Walker’s son, Zane, was the quarterback the year Wood came up, but he broke his arm against Bishop Manogue. In came Wood, who was baptized under fire.
“He had a rough go, those two games,” Walker says. “He started the last regular season game against Yerington and threw three touchdowns and two interceptions.”
Against their former tormentors, the Wolverines, in a play-in game, Wood guided the Dust Devils to a halftime lead before Truckee rallied to win, 30-20.
But Wood, who also has played basketball, baseball and golf for Dayton, was there to stay. He’d been playing football since he was 9 and was used to playing middle linebacker until the seventh grade, when he became too valuable a weapon to risk on the defensive side of the ball.
“He’s always had a strong arm,” Walker says of Wood, who grew up watching John Elway guiding the Denver Broncos to glory. “Travis’ biggest plus is that he knows the game – every aspect of the game. He understands it. He knows what to do in certain coverage, knows where he’s supposed to be. He’s a fantastic student of the game.
“During the last half of last year, I’d ask Travis, ‘What do you see? What do you want to do?’ He tries to help me. He’s a real smart kid. He studies film. He’s such a student of the game that he understands it offensively and defensively.”
Wood is also a good student – period. He is said to get straight As (Wood only says he’s probably in the top 10 percent of his class) and stays out of trouble.
“He’s definitely a role model and you can say he is what a role model should be off the field,” says Hopper, who has grown up in Dayton with Wood, playing baseball, soccer and running track together as they grew older. “I can definitely see him going and playing football at college somewhere. Whatever challenges he faces, he’ll overcome.”
Wood’s the rare breed of quarterback that likes to give it back as good or better than he gets, especially when he’s on defense.
“If we wasn’t our starting quarterback, he’d be our middle linebacker,” Walker says of Wood’s return to the defensive side of the ball this year. “With our defense now, that’s what a safety is for. He comes up with huge hits. He can lay the pop on somebody.”
“I love to play defense,” Wood says. “I don’t know if I love playing defense more than I do offense now, but it’s kinda fun. That’s where I wanted to play in the first place. As a little kid, you want to hit somebody and have some fun.”
Wood feels that playing quarterback enables him to have a better understanding of the game as a safety, something he’s able to put to use when he’s on that side of the ball.
“Being a quarterback myself, I can kinda read the other quarterback a lot easier,” Wood says. “I understand what the opposing team’s trying to do to you. I see that and jump on passes and get some interceptions.”
And like his hero Elway, Wood can also get his foot into the ball.
“He’s a huge threat as a punter,” Walker says. “We run the spread punt and he reads the defense. There are five or six calls he can make. He can decide to fake or punt. He has the green light to make that decision.
“The other team has to respect us with the fake, so they drop only one deep. It’s not a pretty punt. It’s end over end. That’s how it’s designed. And it goes over 40 yards.”
Yeater says Wood is not only a great teammate, but he’s also an exciting player to watch.
“He’s a human highlight film,” Yeater says. “He’ll get the interception at the goal line to stay in the game. He’ll throw a touchdown to win it. He’s a playmaker for sure. He’s a guy you want to play with. You know he’ll get the job done.”
Wood was invited to travel to Las Vegas this summer to compete in the Elite 11 quarterback camp, where he was among approximately 80 top quarterbacks in the region. The Elite 11 has five such regions in the United States.
Wood, who has received letters from several schools, says he gets about one phone call a week from the University of Nevada, where he went to a two-day camp over the summer and played in front of coach Chris Ault.
Wood says, as of now, Nevada is the only Division I school recruiting him.
For his part, Walker says Wood would be a great catch.
“He’s such a cerebral kid,” Walker says. “He has natural ability and God-given talent. This last year, he’s worked exceptionally hard on getting faster and stronger. The top 20 quarterbacks picked out at the Elite 11 were 6-5, 240. Travis is not any of that. But he’s so smart, somebody who takes a chance on this kid can’t go wrong.”
Wood says one of his goals is to get a scholarship to play football. He may also end up going to school to be an architect or a doctor, but is electing to keep his options open and concentrate on this season, which has turned out to be a memorable one.
“It’s been four years in the making,” Wood says. “But this is it – senior year. Our goal is the state championship. We’d never beaten Truckee before. It was a great feeling, but it doesn’t mean too much yet. We’re 7-0, but we have a lot of games in front of us.
“It’s Sparks this week for first place. After that it’s Fernley and the playoffs. There are no easy games from here on out. They’re all tough – all of them have been. We find ways to win every single game.
“We win as a team, that’s what matters. Everybody does their job and finds a way to get a victory.”
Wood says he’s aware that his team will be in for a tough game when it hosts the resurgent Sparks Railroaders, who are 6-1 and will be challenging the newest tough kids on the block – the Dust Devils – for first place.
“Honestly, they might be our toughest test all year,” Wood says of the Railroaders. “They are balanced offensively – they can throw the ball. Their defense is tough. It should be quite a good game. They’ll probably have some of the best offense we’ve seen all year.
“But our defense is great. It should be a dogfight, like every other game.”
Wood says winning is about team, but it’s also the product of something else.
“Coach Walker came here five years ago and our team has gotten better since,” Wood says. “It takes a lot of time to be a high school coach. They don’t pay anything here in Lyon County or in Nevada. He’s certainly not in it for the money. He’s doing it because he loves the game. He’s done a great job with the team.”
Walker, Wood and the rest of the Dust Devils will find out 7:30 p.m. tonight if they’re destined to become the Northern 3A regular season champs and continue to close in on their goal of winning Dayton’s first state football title.
And maybe somehere in that process, a scout may see a certain quarterback/safety/punter who will be destined to fit in on his college team as well.