TAMPA – When you see Matthew Wood you have no clue that the Gaither linebacker is only a sophomore.  At 5’11”, Wood went from 150 lbs. as a freshman, to 185 lbs. this past season and now 200 lbs. The rising junior is a thick player who fits the mold as a middle linebacker for the Cowboys defense.

Wood earned the recognition of Gaither’s top linebacker in 2015 despite it being his first year ever at inside linebacker.

“Throughout the season, I gained so much more knowledge about the sport and the position I played,” Wood said. “Even though we didn’t have a winning record, I wouldn’t change a thing about my season. I feel as if it’s what shaped me into the player I am now.”

The Cowboys posted a 4-6 record which marked the second straight season they missed out on the postseason. Gaither had made three straight region playoff appearances from 2011-13 under head coach Jason Stokes. Despite the down year, Wood has high hopes for this upcoming season.

“I feel very confident in not only my progress to excel and get better, but I am very confident in my whole team. We are going to be a big shock in the county.”

In five seasons under coach Stokes, Gaither has posted a 33-22 record advancing to the 7A region final in his first year, 2011. Wood values Stokes and his coaches on the defensive side of the ball in defensive coordinator Brian Delvalle and linebackers coach James Gee.

“Coach Stokes is this crazy high tempo, find a way type of coach. He is all about execution. You can just tell by the way he is with the kids that he truly cares about us.

…Coach Delvalle is a very intelligent coach when it comes to the game. I would have to say that coach Gee has been the biggest influence on me. He has taught me so much and has really helped me become the player I am today.”

Starting his football life at the age of 7, Wood says he started to gain confidence in his abilities right out of the gates as a member of the JV squad in 2014.

Raised by a single mother, Susan Wood, Matthew calls her his biggest role model in his life. The two went to a University of Florida Gators football game last September and do a lot together when he isn’t playing football or studying.

“My mom has done anything and everything to give me the most out of my life. Honestly, I don’t think I could do what she does for a week. She has and always will be my No. 1 person.”

In visiting with Matthew prior to this interview two weeks ago, I met him and his mother, but it wasn’t exactly a smooth introduction. I was covering the Gaither baseball region quarterfinal and after initially talking to Matthew, his mother tapped me on the shoulder as I was sitting in the stands. Of course, I had no clue who it was and got startled, but she was simply asking how I came in contact with her son.

I don’t blame her for wondering, but she certainly scared me. In all honestly, I can tell the bond between them is strong and I really appreciate it. The story from the baseball game was something I felt like I needed to share since it was pretty humorous.

Although Wood hasn’t received an offer yet, he has drawn interest from Southeastern University after intending one of their camps. He’ll certainly earn some offers here soon, the kid is loaded with attacking ability.

Wood will be dropping back into coverage even more this season as a strong safety in certain situations manning the slot. In 10 starts in 2015, he totaled 98 tackles (13 for a loss), four pass breakups, three sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. He ranked fourth in Hillsborough County in tackles.

Right now Wood calls his biggest strengths, his ability to be coachable, learn what he is taught and his overall power. As for aspects of his game he is looking to improve, he said his agility and lateral coverage.

Camps and events mean a lot to Wood who attended a pair of Big County Preps events as of late. He says he tries to go to every camp possible to perfect his craft. This summer, he’ll head on a college bus tour with Unsigned Preps visiting South Carolina, North Carolina, Clemson, Florida State and Wake Forest.

On the field, Wood calls himself high-tempo, mean and aggressive with a “you’re going to have to knock me out before I stop” attitude. Off the turf, he says he’s an upbeat and friendly person who tries his best to live by the word of the lord.

The Cowboys play a spring jamboree next Thursday against Sickles with Steinbrenner going up against Alonso later in the night. The biggest thing on his mind during a game is to do his job and do it the way he knows how to do it.

“I do it 100 mph and will do anything I can to help my team to win.”

His dream school is UF. Wood wants to obtain his doctorate degree to become a surgeon one day on top of becoming the greatest football to ever play at the school. He says he would love to make it to the NFL.

“I want to be a role model for young teens that no matter what your background, that if you have a goal and stay consistent you can obtain it.”

The two things Wood is working on the most this spring are his agility and body control.

“There were many times last season that I could have made a play but I had poor body control or poor change of direction. This off-season I have improved greatly and can’t wait to show it during this season.”

Wood put himself on the map with a solid 2015 campaign. Thicker, stronger and craftier he is in line for an even better season as a junior. Wood is a vintage player who is willing to do anything for his team.

Matthew Wood is certainly someone you’ll be familiar with rather soon if you aren’t already. This kid has everything that you want in a football player on and off the field.

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Quick hitters

Favorite player to watch – Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly
Playlist before games – Ace Hood
Favorite movie – When the Game Stands Tall
Favorite TV show – Grey’s Anatomy
Favorite hobbies – Making music
Fun fact about you that no one knows – “I have a phobia of lightning and horses.”
Nickname from teammates or friends – “Woody”, “Wood” and “Matchew.”

Jake Perper is the scout for Prep Sports Scouting. Make sure to follow along for all the updates on Twitter: @JakePerper.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to write below or email Jake at jake.perper@hotmail.com.

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