Column: Basketball player CJ Woods of Brentwood tries football and discovers a new sport to love

CJ Woods, a starter for the Brentwood basketball team, decided to try football in his senior year
CJ Woods, a starter for the Brentwood basketball team, decided to try football in his senior year and has become a major contributor.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

CJ Woods was acting as if he had just completed a climb to the highest mountain top — the joy in his voice, the smile on his face, the expression in his words.

Sitting in a classroom wearing a white football T-shirt, Woods described in exhilarating details what he felt like after playing in his first-ever high school football game for Brentwood School.

The son of a mother (UCLA) and father (Washington) who were Division I college basketball players, Woods had never gone out for football. He was a 6-foot-4 starting basketball player for the Eagles until he got up the courage to try football going into his senior year last spring.


So there he was after playing defensive end for the first time in a real game.

“I was so happy I almost started crying,” he said. “Everyone was screaming and yelling. We were down at halftime and came back. It was nothing like I’ve ever done because it was something I have never done. I didn’t have words for it. It felt special. I saw my parents. I was so happy. Oh, my gosh, it was the most fun I’ve had.”

There are teenagers who end up regretting not trying something different during their high school days when that’s exactly what high school is supposed to be about — experimentation and finding something you like. There’s nothing wrong with failure. You move on. But if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Woods had been lobbied by friends to try football for years. Finally, he took the risk, overcoming concerns about how his basketball coach or his parents might react.

“I was a tiny bit worried, but he was very supportive,” Woods said when he informed basketball coach Ryan Bailey of his decision.

Bailey told him not to worry about summer basketball. Focus on football and enjoy. “I’m really proud of CJ,” Bailey said. “If you can do it and don’t, you’ll regret it. He’s maximizing his talent.”

Football coach Jake Ford had approached Woods and was thrilled he decided to try football, even though he had zero experience. Ford remembers Woods’ first seven-on-seven passing tournament last May. He went out for a pass and started clapping his hands after running a curl pattern like he would if he wanted someone to throw him a pass into the post area in basketball.

He needed to be taught from scratch all the fundamentals of football — how to tackle, how to run a post pattern, how to put on a helmet, how to buckle the chin strap, how to wear pads. He started from the bottom, and, boy, is he getting better.

“He learned he was bigger and stronger than everybody,” Ford said.

He’s 215 pounds with long arms. One of the perks of football is that Woods no longer worries about his weight. He has put on 15 pounds with the approval of his parents.

“That’s probably the best thing,” Woods said. “I can actually go to Chipotle and get two burritos and my parents won’t stress.”

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He caught one pass in Brentwood’s 21-13 loss to Palisades on Friday night. He caught three passes for 100 yards and one touchdown last week against Angelou. He has 16 tackles, including three sacks.

He watches football games on television differently, now that he’s playing.

“It’s weird,” he said. “I see what the defensive ends are doing.”

Every game, every practice, every team meeting, he enjoys.

“It’s so much fun,” he said. “The camaraderie is real. The brotherhood is real. A lot of my teammates have been so supportive. It’s something that really feels fulfilling.”

So what’s his recommendation for athletes torn about trying something different?

“I say, if you really want to do it, go for it,” he said. “Don’t even overthink it. Just jump into it.”