It might seem as if Oxnard Santa Clara senior running back Cierre Wood doesn't have much pressure riding on his turf-churning cleats these days.
After all, he has already won a Southern Section division title, has rushed for more than 2,500 yards in a season and has committed to Notre Dame.
So what's left for the soft-spoken kid who is the latest super-charged model off the Ventura County running backs assembly line?
"We're in a new league this year and we want to prove we can still do some damage," Wood said. "I want to do everything possible to have a repeat of last year."
After leading the Saints to their first division title in 42 years, Wood is looking forward to Santa Clara's move from the Frontier League to the more competitive Tri-Valley League. On the schedule now are games against five-time defending division champion Westlake Village Oaks Christian, Oak Park, Ojai Nordhoff and Carpinteria, and Wood is eager to prove Santa Clara can beat bigger schools.
"There's always someone out there who says you can't do it," Wood said, "but we're going to show all the doubters what we're made of."
It's hard to imagine anyone questioning Santa Clara's chances with the 6-foot, 192-pound Wood in the backfield. As a junior, he rushed for 2,612 yards and 34 touchdowns to solidify his place among the nation's top high school running backs. Scout.com rates him No. 2 at his position, and Rivals.com has him No. 3.
Santa Clara will again rely heavily on Wood to lead its defense and special teams. Last year, he had 63 tackles and two interceptions at cornerback in addition to handling the Saints' punting duties.
"He kind of does a little of everything for us," Coach Fran Fredette said. "I think he's the best player I've ever coached. Everything just comes so natural for him. He's definitely a once-in-a-lifetime kind of player."
Fredette said Wood is "stronger, faster and more experienced" than last year, lessening the sting of losing quarterback Randi Vines to graduation. Still, with three new starters on the offensive line, Fredette wants to take advantage of a somewhat forgiving nonleague schedule to make sure the running game gets off to a smooth start.
Wood understands how vital the offensive line's play will be in spearheading the Saints' Northwest Division playoff hopes. That's why he and his father, Martine, are soon planning to invite the linemen over to their house for a barbecue.
"He had one last year too, and it really shows how much he appreciates us," senior center Artie Lopez said. "He's our superstar, but he's also a nice guy."
Embracing the team aspect has always been important for Wood, who says he's not thinking about replicating or bettering his rushing numbers from last year. He says making the playoffs is the team's primary mission, and he's hoping the Saints can surprise some people along the way.
He'd love it if one of those surprises came against Oaks Christian on Nov. 7, because Wood has been engaging in some lighthearted trash talk with Lions quarterback Tony Macarena, a friend.
Wood says he has "circles and arrows" pointing to that day on the calendar.
"That's the game that will define us," he said. "That game will prove we're for real."
* Next up: wide receivers.
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Running back report
How the running backs rank:
1. Cierre Wood, Santa Clara, 6-0, 195, Sr.: Committed to Notre Dame.
2. Malcolm Jones, Oaks Christian, 6-1, 215, Jr.: Scored 25 touchdowns as soph.
3. Melvin Richardson, Long Beach Poly, 5-11, 180, Sr.: Gained 1,316 yards.
4. Chris Brown, Newbury Park, 6-1, 185, Sr.: Committed to Utah.
5. Daniel Jenkins, Rancho Verde, 5-9, 178, Sr.: Speed, strength and big-play ability.
6. Ryan Zirbel, Saugus, 5-9, 190, Sr.: All he does is score TDs and pick up yards.
7. Anthony Wilkerson, Tustin, 5-11, 210, Jr. : Durable and talented as sophomore.
8. D.J. Morgan, Taft, 5-9, 175, Jr.: Hurdles champion rushed for 1,185 yards.
9. Michael Allain, Fullerton, 5-11, 175, Sr.: Rushed for 2,221 yards, 21 TDs.
10. De'Anthony Thomas, Crenshaw, 5-9, 170, So.: Appears likely to be a standout.
-- Eric Sondheimer