He made six tackles. He knocked down two passes. He made an impact from start to finish.
Tanner Wood is coming off his best football game in a Kansas State uniform, and it’s exciting for him to think about what that might mean for the remainder of his college career.
K-State fans need no introduction to Wood. He’s played in 43 games and made 83 tackles since arriving on campus from Conway Springs, but he has taken things to a higher level this season. The senior defensive end seems to be playing with more energy and confidence.
“I feel way more comfortable, having four games starting under my belt,” Wood said. “Experience helps a lot. Last year, I hadn’t started a full game. This year, I am more conditioned and ready for it. It’s going better, no doubt.”
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His progress was on full display during a 33-20 victory over Baylor on Saturday. Not only did Wood match his career high in tackles and set a career high in pass deflections, he also made the most ferocious tackle of his life – a body-slam hit behind the line of scrimmage that made him look like a pro wrestler.
On the play, Baylor running back Tony Nicholson took a handoff and hurdled K-State defensive back Cre Moore on a designed outside run, but Wood grabbed hold of him before his feet touched the ground.
“He landed in my arms, and I was just kind of happy,” Wood said. “Well, I’m going to slam him. That’s what happened.”
Wood also caused problems for Baylor quarterback Zach Smith by swatting two passes before they could make it past the line of scrimmage.
“I was just reading his eyes,” Wood said. “He would take his hands off the ball, and I knew that is when he was going to throw it. So I got my hands up.”
To put it simply, Wood is starting to be in the right place at the right time. That’s not always easy to do on the football field, but he is making it happen through hard work and knowledge.
Starting two games last season helped him learn what it takes to succeed on the defensive line, and he used those lessons to push himself throughout the offseason. He has now made four straight starts, and seems to be improving with each game.
“He is one of those guys who is trying to do what you ask him to do,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “He is always going to do it full speed ahead and as hard as he can. He works diligently to get better, and I see him getting better and better. It does not hurt anything that he has had the experience of being more than a part-time player last year.”
College football has been an interesting transition for Wood.
As a senior at Conway Springs, he was Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year following an electric season at running back. His 659-yard, 9-touchdown game against Chaparral remains a state high school record for single-game rushing yardage. Some expected the four-star recruit to make an immediate impact for the Wildcats. Things didn’t work out that way, but he has been a steady contributor.
He has made important plays throughout his career. Now he’s making them consistently. He is a big reason why K-State has been strong against the run this season, allowing an average of 120.5 yards.
Wood is pleased with his progress, but he is far from content. As fun as it was to make tackles and knock down passes against Baylor, there is a different type of defensive play he would rather celebrate in his next game against Texas.
“I would much rather have sacks,” Wood said. “I will take whatever I can get.… But we are still struggling in the sack department. We would like to get more in these next few games.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett