By STEVE KRAH
It makes some athletes wilt and others rise to the occasion.
Put Kobe Woods in the latter category.
Coming off an IHSAA championship season (he went 44-0 as a junior, beating Warren Central senior Courvoisier Morrow 7-2 in the 220-pound state title match while helping the Kingsmen to a first-ever team state championship), Woods continues to crave challenges inside the wrestling circle and on the football field.
â€œWhat makes Kobe tick?,â€ says Penn wrestling coach Brad Harper. â€œHe loves competition. He thrives off of that.â€
Penn football coach Cory Yeoman, who counts Woods among his inside linebackers on a squad bound for the IHSAA Class 6A championship game against Center Grove on Saturday, Nov. 28, sees the same kind of attributes in the 5-foot-11 athlete.
â€œHe competes at the highest level no matter what heâ€™s doing and thatâ€™s a great trait of champions,â€ says Yeoman of the three-year football starter. â€œHe does have great balance, leverage and strength. He is explosive. But by far, his best attribute is how he competes. Thereâ€™s a lot of great athletes in the world, but they donâ€™t all compete.â€
Woods has committed to compete at the next level. He recently signed to wrestle at Purdue University, where he expects to be a prospect at 197, and may also get a chance to walk on to the Boilermakers football team.
If Woods plays Big Ten football, he will join roommate-to-be and athletic Merrillville High School senior heavyweight Shawn Streck in competing in both sports.
Woods credits his atmosphere as well as his natural drive for his multi-sport success in high school.
â€œBeing in the atmosphere of Penn High School itâ€™s really kind of motivating everyday,â€ says Woods. â€œYouâ€™re not really the big shot. The stakes are so high and the talent is so good at Penn, itâ€™s awesome to know that if you stop working hard, if you start slacking, thereâ€™s someone there to take your spot.â€
It boils down to effort for the future Boiler.
â€œIt really comes down to how hard you want to work,â€ says Woods. â€œAs an athlete, everyday I want to get a little bit better. Thatâ€™s really my goal.
â€œIf you get a little bit better everyday, pretty soon youâ€™re going to be pretty good.â€
Harper says it is rare to find an athlete who likes pressure situations.
Woods excels in these tense scenarios because he is not overwhelmed by the chaos.
â€œThatâ€™s why heâ€™s been so successful,â€ says Harper, who first saw Woods crack the Penn varsity lineup at 220 as a 190-pound freshman. â€œHe knows how to control his emotions.
â€œHeâ€™s very calm,â€ says Harper. â€œHeâ€™s very focused. Heâ€™s very relaxed. He doesnâ€™t get overhyped. Sometimes kids get a little too hyped or angry and let their emotions take over.â€
Pennâ€™s wrestling title run included plenty of mental exercises as well as practice room moves.
Woods prospered on the visualization drills.
His refusal to give up in a wrestling match or on a given football play also makes Woods exceptional.
â€œYou canâ€™t have plays off (in football),â€ says Yeoman. â€œEvery now and then youâ€™re in a bad position. Youâ€™ve got a choice to quit or keep going and do something special. Some guys give in, but Kobe never does. He just makes plays.â€
Woods says it does not make sense to stop on a play since that just might be the play where the opponent coughs up and a defender needs to be ready to seize that opportunity.
Yeoman says one way to grade a playerâ€™s worth is his ability to handle adversity.
Like his solid B classroom average, Woods grades high on persistence.
â€œHe never backs down,â€ says Yeoman his defensive signal caller. â€œThereâ€™s no moping on the sideline (after a are bad sequence). Thereâ€™s not time for that. You can do something about it. Thatâ€™s what he wants to do.â€
Woods is also not afraid of leaving the comfort zone. In fact, he likes to do that during wrestling practice to extend his knowledge of the sport.
â€œThat way I can push my levels when Iâ€™m actually competing,â€ says Woods.
Woods has come along way since his days of giving up 30 pounds and sometimes three years to his opponent while making it all the way to the IHSAA State Finals as a freshman.
â€œThat was really fun,â€ says Woods of the challenging experience. â€œThat is really what did it for me. At some point I said, â€˜I donâ€™t care if youâ€™re older, I donâ€™t care if youâ€™re stronger, Iâ€™m just going to go out and wrestle.â€™
â€œLooking back, it was a benefit for me. Iâ€™ve really grown from that.â€