WATCH: Mentally matured Ben Woods hopes to end things right at Kent-Meridian
Ben Woods could be preparing for his fourth consecutive year as the starting catcher on the Kent-Meridian High School baseball team.
He easily could have skipped on returning for his third year as the Royals’ starting quarterback on the football team – and he nearly did. Why return when K-M graduated most of what the coaches believe were the best crop of wide receivers at one school in the state.
But then he’d be missing football memories like Saturday, when he helped form a dance circle with his teammates as coach Brett Allen demonstrated one of his self-admitted hidden talents, providing a beat with his whistle.
There were perhaps other, maybe more honorable, reasons Woods came back out for football this year.
"I regret all of last season," Woods said. "I was mentally weak. I didn’t want to be the guy that throws to good guys, I wanted to be one of the good guys. So I tried to make plays when there weren’t plays and just tried to force things.
"I know we could have done a lot better if I had been more like I was as a sophomore. So I feel like this year, I’ve gone through the good, and I’ve gone through the bad."
Few players recognize something like that – a selfish mindset that’s more about individual attention than team success. Even fewer get the opportunity to make it right.
Which is why Woods is back on French Field, even if his main sport is baseball.
He threw for 2,001 yards last year – the second-most yards of any quarterback in the 4A South Puget Sound League, just behind Tahoma’s Amandre Williams, who is now at the University of Washington. Kent-Meridian will play in the Cascade division of the 4A North Puget Sound League this year.
But Woods also led the league in interceptions (16).
He had the 4A SPSL’s top target, Emmanuel Daigbe, who was a 4A all-state and TNT All-Area wide receiver. Kent-Meridian also had standout targets in receiver Marc Dennis and running back Shamar Malik Woolery.
Woods embraced the distributor, point guard-like, role as a sophomore. Not so much last year.
"Ben got caught up in the point where his identity was based on what kids told him – ‘Oh, you’re just a good quarterback because you got Emmanuel Daigbe and Marc Dennis and Malik. So it’s not really you,’" Allen said.
"So last year he went outside the realm of how we do things to make people see (his talent), instead of letting what we do show that."
Kent-Meridian had returned almost all its most impactful players from its postseason team two years ago, Woods’ first year starting. But the Royals missed the district playoffs last year after being the odd-team out in a three-way tiebreaker for the final seed from the 4A SPSL Northeast with Kentlake and Tahoma. The Royals finished 6-4.
From their eyes, it was a gross underachievement.
And Woods said that was when he realized he needed to change.
"Because we had the athletes, we had the experience," Woods said. "I just felt like I needed to prove to myself and everyone else that I didn’t need everybody around me. But you are going to need anybody who is around you."
Kent-Meridian returns just four players on both offense and defense who started last year.
But that was almost three. Woods, who also starts at safety, told Allen at the team’s banquet in December that he was considering quitting football to focus on baseball.
Allen, who was a football, basketball and track and field athlete at Hazen High School before playing football at Central Washington University, made his pitch, and Woods didn’t get back to him until a couple months later.
"Obviously he had some soul searching," Allen said. "He came and saw me in my classroom and was like, ‘I made a decision, I can’t leave it like this. I can’t leave it this way.’"
Woods asked for Allen’s keys to open the K-M weight room after practice Saturday, a sign Allen said points to just how on board Woods is this year.
"He’s been doing that ever since the day he saw me like back in February," Allen said. "He’d come in while I’m grading papers and he’d knock on my window. ‘Can I get in the weight room?’ ‘OK, let’s go.’"
That was a trait Daigbe notoriously possessed, as well.
"There was that period where he was like, ‘I want to show people I don’t need Manny,’" Allen said. "But come full circle – Manny was his example for work ethic."
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677