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For two years, Kyree Woods was out of football. Before this season with the Rattlers, his last game came on Oct. 5, 2019, when he played for San Diego State University.
Starting at defensive back for SDSU, Woods tore his ACL five games into that season. COVID-19 caused SDSU to cancel its 2020 season. He spent 2020 working at a law firm owned by his stepfather and working out, training for the next opportunity wherever it might come. When he got the opportunity to join the Rattlers, it was a chance to jump-start his football career. So far, he hasn’t disappointed.
Woods is making a name for himself as one of the best defensive backs in the IFL as a rookie. In the Arizona Rattlers’ first playoff game of 2022, Woods had four interceptions, breaking the Rattlers’ record and tying the IFL record for single-game interceptions.
“I know we’ve had some guys that have had three picks; I can’t remember any with four,” Rattlers coach Kevin Guy said. “Woods has had a great year as a rookie. I think he should be all-league. We’re very proud of how he’s played.”
Woods and the Rattlers secondary finished with five interceptions in the first-round matchup against the Duke City Gladiators. Arizona held Duke City scoreless on seven of nine drives, and the two scoring drives came in the first quarter.
“We’re a good team,” Woods said. “It is a good feeling when your teammates are all celebrating. I’m at a loss for words.”
Given his tumultuous journey, Woods’ ability to find success in Arizona feels like fate. It was just a few towns over where Woods became a local legend for his time at Chandler High School. Before committing to SDSU, ESPN ranked Woods as the 13th-best recruit from Arizona in his class, and 247Sports had him at No. 17. In his junior season, the Wolves won the state championship over their in-town rivals, the Hamilton Huskies.
Woods never had a game like Sunday’s during his stints at Chandler or SDSU.
“I think two (interceptions) is the most I’ve had (in a game),” Woods said.
Woods has spent his time with the Rattlers improving upon the nuances of playing cornerback. Learning to manipulate quarterbacks with his eyes and body language has provided him with new opportunities to make plays on the ball. For him, that was the key to his four interceptions.
“A lot of times as a (defensive back), your eyes are the main focus,” Woods said. “When you get your eyes right, good things will happen.”
Woods said that has been an emphasis in practice. With coach Allen “Bubba” Chapman out this week due to sickness, Guy thinks it is no coincidence that Woods had his best week of practice and his best game after overseeing the secondary at practice.
“We got five (team) interceptions, so we might have to keep that up,” Guy joked about coaching the secondary at practice. “(Woods) has bought in. When you come in and you buy in and you’re coachable, you can go out and execute and have success.”
The Rattlers’ Dillon Winfrey is also a top defensive player in the IFL. This is his fifth year in the league and the IFL voted him the 2021 defensive player of the year. Seeing success come to young players such as Woods gives Winfrey a lot of pride, as does having one of the strongest secondaries in the IFL.
“This guy just had four interceptions. I don’t know if we have anyone working with Wendy’s, but he needs a burger, some sort of four by four, or at least a burger called the Woody Burger,” Winfrey said. “It speaks to his hard work. This week of practice was probably his best week of practice. He worked on his technique and you can see the proof. He did his thing.”
Winfrey has been a positive, veteran mentor for Woods, but Guy believes that Woods can make the same difference for future generations of Rattlers.
“He’s a great lesson for a lot of other guys,” Guy said. “He’s had a great attitude all year; he has a big smile ear to ear going. He’s solid as a human being and a football player. (Woods) has been a good pickup for us.”
The duo of Winfrey and Woods has led the Rattlers to the second-best pass defense in the IFL. Arizona is no stranger to a strong defense under coach Guy, but this team believes this unit is special enough to carry the team to its first title since 2017.