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Bill Plaschke

Cierre Wood has the swagger — and the stats to back it up

The Notre Dame running back from Southern California could give Alabama something to worry about Monday.

January 05, 2013|Bill Plaschke
  • Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood (20) is averaging 6.7 yards per carry this season.
Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood (20) is averaging 6.7 yards per carry… (Michael Conroy / Associated…)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — He is the Irish whose eyes are smiling, his brows permanently raised in anticipation of saying something that would turn a golden dome bronze.

Perhaps this is why Cierre Wood is also the Notre Dame player whose interview Saturday was monitored by a member of the athletic department. This was the first time in more than two months that Wood had been allowed to speak publicly, and a school official hung on every word.

Nice try. Unlike his teammates, the running back didn't dance around Notre Dame's BCS national championship matchup with Alabama, he ran right over it.

"People can say what they want, but we're gonna hold our own, and at the end of the day, if we do everything right, the scoreboard ... should favor our side," Wood said.

Meet the anti-Rudy, a kid who swaggered from South Los Angeles to South Bend to inject Notre Dame with the sort of urban attitude that could carry them Monday night against the baddest college football team on the planet.

"He definitely has a different vibe," said Irish quarterback Everett Golson with a grin. "He doesn't care what anybody thinks about him."

Meet the anti-Rockne, a kid who has one tattoo of his initials in flames and another reading "The world is mine." He brags about his speed, he publicly asks for more carries, and, even though he has another year eligibility remaining, he was talking about the NFL way back in September.

"My mom say you don't bite your tongue for anybody. That's how I've been raised all my life," he said while standing far from one of the main player podiums on media day at Sun Life Stadium.

Wood is unpredictable enough to have been suspended for Notre Dame's first two games for breaking team rules, yet consistently explosive enough to have led the team in average rushing yards per game while breaking seemingly every big Irish run this season.

He sprinted through the line for a 62-yard touchdown in the first quarter against Oklahoma, and the Irish never trailed again. He dashed for 68 yards and a touchdown against Wake Forest. He scored twice against Miami on a day that featured a 37-yard run.

He is the Notre Dame offensive player that the Crimson Tide defensive line cites as most worrisome, the one guy who could change this game of a lifetime in 10 seconds. And, of course, he knows it.

"People already knew I was fast, but I really opened it up this year, as far as breaking long runs and not getting caught," Wood said. "If people thought I didn't have speed, I thought I'd throw that out there, show I've got that as well."

Wood is loud and proud, particularly of his 1-year-old daughter Braelyn. He undoubtedly raised some eyebrows under the conservative dome this season when, as an unmarried father, he joyfully ran into the toddling arms of his pink-hoodied cutie on Senior Day. Not only didn't he care, he said it was the best moment of his life.

"I shed a tear coming up to her," he said. "People may look at me different … but I would never, ever be ashamed of my daughter."

That the Notre Dame football program has opened its arms to this kind of personality — albeit with a tight embrace — is a clear reason for its success. Under Coach Brian Kelly, the Irish have seemingly realized that winners come in all shapes and swaggers. Kelly doesn't love everything about the hotshot kid from L.A.'s 49th and Western, but he's willing to hang with him long enough to watch him fly.

"I don't want them all to be like me, my goodness," Kelly said. "I want them to have their own personalities; we like that. I want [Wood] to be who he is."

Within limits, of course. Wood claimed during his media day interview that, even when he's allowed to talk, he's been forced to chill out a bit.

"I don't really pop off like I used to; it's really hard," he said. "When I first got here, I said what's on my mind, simple as that, but I had to fit it to where everything was good with what everybody else was saying."

OK, right. At one point in Saturday's interview, Wood excused himself to lead some teammates in a weekly locker-room game in which they attempt to bounce a ping-pong ball into a glass of water. Except this time, they played the game on the sideline at Sun Life Stadium, and the glass of water was sitting on the national title trophy, and Wood tried to bounce the ping-pong ball off the trophy's crystal football.

"Teardrop!" he shouted with his failed shot.

When he was asked about having fun in South Florida, he quickly mentioned that the Irish were ensconced in a "family" hotel that wasn't much fun.

"We're away from everything.... We couldn't get distracted if we wanted to," he said. "I sit in my room and watch TV and take a nap, that's the fun I have."

The Southern California kid — he attended high school at Santa Clara in Oxnard — then gave a lesson on ocean safety.

"From my room I saw a stingray about two feet from this girl, she didn't know it, and I'm like, nope, that's why I'm never getting in the water," he said.

Did he warn the girl?

"We're on the 15th floor, she's way out to sea, I'm not going to lose my voice over this," he said. "I'm sorry, she shouldn't have been out in that water."

As for Monday, Wood believes Alabama is that swimmer, and his team is that fish.

"The message to us has been simple," he said. "Play Notre Dame football, and end of the day, the scoreboard should favor us."

The echoes wince, and the thunder sighs.

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