MARSHALL, Ind. —
One of the better high school athletic careers in the Wabash Valley in quite some time — no, make it one of the better careers ever — is going out in a blaze of glory.
No, that’s not quite right either. Despite some numbers that are definitely on the glorious side, Turkey Run’s Jeff Woods may be doomed to end his 12th varsity season with the Warriors within a couple of months in the same anonymity he’s enjoyed — and that’s probably the right word — since his freshman year.
He’s been a starter every game he’s been healthy in both football and basketball since entering high school, and he thinks baseball might be his best sport. He can’t tell you why, though, because he doesn’t know his statistics.
“I don’t know anything about ‘em,” he said this week when asked about his numbers. “I don’t like to keep track of such things.”
Fortunately, coach Jim Nevins of the Warriors does keep track. After leading the Wabash Valley in hitting a year ago — “.560, .580, something like that,” Nevins recalled — Woods is doing even better than that this year.
In Turkey Run’s first seven games, he came to the plate 24 times. Five times he was retired — although one of those was a sacrifice fly — so his on-base percentage is .792. He’s drawn seven walks and been hit by a pitch, so he has 15 official at-bats and has five homers, two doubles and a triple among his 11 hits. That’s a batting average of .733, a slugging percentage of 2.000.
Nevins does recall Woods swinging and missing one pitch this year — “He had a 3-and-1 count and he didn’t want to walk, so he swung at one a foot outside,” the coach said. “He still walked on the next pitch” — but he hasn’t struck out. The Warrior catcher has also thrown out 50 percent of runners who have tried to steal on him. “Best arm around here,” Nevins claims.
As noted, however, those numbers aren’t important to the player accumulating them. They’re also a pretty small part of the reason he’ll be missed so much when he graduates.
Take loyalty, for instance. One reaction to his accomplishments is that they occurred at such a small school; it would seem only natural for an athlete of his caliber to wonder what kind of respect — and how many victories — he might have had at a different location.
That, however, wouldn’t be Jeff Woods.
“I wouldn’t take anything back,” he told the Tribune-Star this week. “I’ve had fun here at Turkey Run. We didn’t win a whole lot of games, but we learned how to deal with the adversity you face in life.”
“He may be the most humble kid I’ve ever coached,” Nevins says. “I’ve never had to get on him about anything … everybody’s looked up to him since probably his sophomore year.”
“He was a coach on the field. He ran the show,” said football coach Steve Stewart. “If you wanted to know what somebody was supposed to do or what [pass] routes they were supposed to run, you went to him.
“He not only had athletic talent,” continued Stewart, who used Woods at “quarterback, some linebacker, a lot of safety, and he did most of our punting,” but “he also became a true leader.”
“The hardest worker in the basketball program,” said coach Grant McVay.
Woods’ senior basketball season was a good example of his value, McVay noted. After two seasons as a complementary player to outstanding guard Jake Weaver, as a junior Woods became leading scorer by necessity — “If he didn’t shoot it, we had a hard time scoring,” the coach said — but suffered two broken wrists near the end of the 2012 football season that cost him about half his senior basketball campaign.
“He never was right [physically], yet he made us competitive, just by his presence on the floor,” McVay said. “His stats took a big hit … but he gave us a chance to compete every single night.”
He’s healthy for baseball, though, and that’s what he’d like to play at a higher level.
“If you’ve got enough talent, people ought to notice you anyway,” he reasons.
At least a few people have. West Vigo is arguably the toughest team on the Warrior schedule every spring, and Woods has made an impression on the Vikings.
“He’s a legit player,” coach Steve DeGroote of West Vigo said recently when asked about Woods. “He has a strong arm, he can hit, he can run … he’s really a good prospect — a nice-sized kid who’s as good as anybody we’ve played against as a catcher.”
Woods might also get some recognition if the Warriors can make a postseason run in baseball later this spring.
“It would be nice to get a repeat,” he noted. “I don’t think that’s ever been done [at Turkey Run]. It was 35 years since we won the last one.”
One of the reasons Woods knows this is because one of the mainstays for the Turkey Run team 35 years ago was his father, Dan Woods. The Woods family — which has a Parke County farming operation — has also sent Jeff’s brothers Phil (who led the Warrior basketball team to the championship game of the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic in 2001) and Ben through Turkey Run.
If Jeff’s the best of the siblings, he apparently won’t hear it from them. “They tell me I’m not very good,” he said with a smile this week.
Back-to-back sectional titles might, however, give him some family bragging rights — not that he’s looking for them.
“I’m just glad to keep the legacy going,” he said.
And the folks at Turkey Run are not looking forward to graduation day.
“We’ll be hard-pressed to replace him,” Stewart said.
“This whole school’s going to miss Jeff,” Nevins agreed.