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Robert Woods ready to take his place atop USC's receivers list

Robert Woods, a junior, needs five catches to become the Trojans' all-time leader in receptions. His role in the offense hasn't been as big this season, but Woods says he is not frustrated.

October 19, 2012
  • USC receiver Robert Woods carries the ball as he breaks a tackle from Utah linebacker Trevor Reilly in the first quarter during an NCAA college football game on Oct. 4, 2012.
USC receiver Robert Woods carries the ball as he breaks a tackle from Utah… (Rick Bowmer / Associated…)

Robert Woods is back in the spotlight.

The junior receiver pretty much owned it during most of his first two seasons at USC, setting records and earning recognition as one of college football's top players.

This season, with sophomore receiver Marqise Lee's continuing emergence and the addition of tailback Silas Redd to an offense featuring quarterback Matt Barkley, Woods has most often played a supporting role.

Frustrated?

"Not at all," he said, trying to sound convincing.

On Saturday, the focus will be back on Woods when No. 11 USC plays Colorado in a Pac-12 Conference game at the Coliseum.

The former Gardena Serra High star is five catches from surpassing Dwayne Jarrett as the Trojans' all-time receptions leader. And with Barkley needing only four touchdown passes to establish a USC and Pac-12 career record, it's possible that at least one of Woods' receptions will be made in the end zone.

"It will mean a lot to me," Woods said. "Growing up, watching all the USC receivers, to be on the list with them at the top of it is an honor and privilege."

Woods, 20, grew up in Carson and recalls Jarrett, Mike Williams, Keary Colbert and Steve Smith starring at receiver for the Trojans.

Jarrett was a three-year starter who caught 216 passes from 2004 to 2006, including a conference-record 41 for touchdowns.

Woods started the season with 176 catches and 16 touchdowns. In six games, he has 36 receptions, five for touchdowns.

"He has soft hands with the ability to accelerate and go get the ball," said an NFL scout, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly. "He finds the soft spots against zone defenses."

Woods earned freshman All-American honors in 2010, catching 65 passes and returning kicks.

The following spring, he suffered an ankle injury while he and linebacker Dion Bailey were rebounding for a Trojans women's basketball player at the Galen Center. Woods, his shoelaces untied, jumped to grab a ball and came down awkwardly on his right ankle.

"I just thought it was a regular sprain," he said.

Despite continuing discomfort his sophomore season, he set USC and Pac-12 records with 111 receptions, a total that could have been greater had the Trojans been eligible for the conference championship and bowl games.

After surgery last December, Woods did not heal as projected, forcing him to sit out spring practice, players-only off-season workouts and nearly all of training camp.

Now, he wears a custom ankle brace for support.

"Whenever I put on this brace," he said last month, "I think, 'I could have avoided this.' "

Lee, Woods' former Serra teammate, has led the Trojans in receptions in all but one game. Redd, a transfer from Penn State, has rushed for more than 100 yards three times for a Trojans team that is 5-1 and 10th in the Bowl Championship Series standings.

Coach Lane Kiffin, who has repeatedly said that Lee could be the greatest receiver in USC history, sat down with Woods a few weeks ago, he said, and "laid it out and explained why things are the way they are, just so he understood."

Meantime, Woods intends to help USC find its offensive stride in the second half of the season.

"We have all the weapons we need," he said, "we've just got to execute."

Last week against Washington, Woods had five catches and moved ahead of Colbert into second place on USC's all-time list. On Saturday, he hopes to establish a new standard, knowing it could be broken next season if Lee (127 receptions) maintains his current pace.

Colbert and Curtis Conway are among the former Trojans receivers who have recently reached out to Woods.

"Me and Marqise are following in their footsteps," Woods said. "Just trying to set the bar a little higher."

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

Times staff writer Sam Farmer contributed to this report.

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