Champs Sports Bowl a homecoming for Notre Dame's Lo Wood

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This week is a homecoming of sorts for Lo Wood.

As a sophomore at Notre Dame, Wood has been calling South Bend a home-away-from-home. However, Central Florida is his real home and the former Dr. Phillips and Apopka star is back this week and he brought along his current teammates as well.

Playing in a bowl game is always a thrill but when it's in your own backyard, nothing could be better for the Florida native.

"It's a great experience," Wood said after practice at the Citrus Bowl Monday. "Especially with my teammates."

Notre Dame (8-4) is playing Florida State (8-4) on Thursday in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Wood has become somewhat of a local ambassador for the area, dishing out his advice to teammates who ask him for places to go and things to do.

"Any time they are going to do something, they ask me, 'Lo, where is this at, where is this at' and how do you get there," he said with a laugh.

While helping his teammates find their way around the area is nice, the joy of playing in front of family and friends this week is something Wood is really looking forward to.

"It means a lot," Wood said. "A lot of my family haven't been able to make their way to South Bend. Now having my cousins and my grandma, especially my grandma , come to one of my football games, just means the world to me."

It hasn't been easy for the 5-foot-10, 195-pound cornerback, who committed to Notre Dame early in 2009. He was the first Central Florida player to commit to the school since 2006.

His freshman season, he played in 11 games, mostly on special teams.

This season, he's playing behind senior corners R.J. Burton and Gary Gray, and that learning experience has been a good one.

"I feel like — especially being behind R.J. and Gary Gray — there's a lot that I have learned from those two," Wood said.

While playing a limited role — Wood was on the field for 10 games — he finished with six tackles but he did manage to find the end zone this season.

On Nov. 12, he picked off a pass and returned it 57 yards for a touchdown in Notre Dame's 45-21 win over the Terps.

Playing against Florida State also has extra special meaning as well.

His father, Lo Wood Sr., was a huge Seminoles fan and one of his former Dr. Phillips teammates just happens to be playing for FSU this week as well.

"Kenny Shaw, my ex-teammate is on the team so it's like a big game for me," Wood said. "Especially since I live in Florida, myself."

According to Wood, there has been no trash talking on the game but the duo did have a chance to connect before the players returned to their respective teams over the holidays.

While Thursday's game has major significance, for Wood, just being back home for the holiday and playing at the Citrus Bowl in front of family and friends is a high spot this season.

"To me, coming home, and this game is basically my highlight for the year," Wood said.

mmurschel@tribune.com

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