The Families of GNTC Student-Athlete Matt Woods
(Rock Spring, Georgia) – Battling against opponents years younger than him on the court, Georgia Northwestern Tech Bobcat Matt Woods would be the last person to call the forty minutes on the game-day hardwood this season a battle.
The games in the 2010-11 season have been intense, athletic, competitive… but never a battle. You see, off the court, Sergeant Matthew Curtis Woods, 23, has close-quarters combat experience that dwarfs any pressure a full-court press has put the 23-year-old point guard through in his freshman season.
Just two years ago, he served nearly a year in Iraq; even earning honors for his heroic actions in a grenade attack on his patrol. “We were in a truck and we saw the guy run into a hut and three of us ran in and got him,” said Woods. The assailant had just dropped an anti-tank grenade near fellow troops on patrol and quickly ran away. “We could have shot him shortly before, but there was a school behind him so we had to chase him down.”
Woods would earn a Combat Action Badge for his service that day. He’d return home in December of 2009. However, his brother, First Lieutenant Bobby Woods, 25, would then be deployed to Afghanistan and would run daily patrols in one of the most dangerous regions on the planet, Kandahar. “He is infantry and I am military police,” said Woods. “He was ready, he wanted to go.”
Bobby would not be as fortunate.
Deployed in May 2010, he was quickly in the middle of a lot of fire fights. “There were a lot of casualties there,” said Woods. In 100-degree-plus heat on August 8, 2010, Bobby would be on patrol and fall under attack when a bullet hit Woods, missing his helmet, but shattering the front of his skull. “Two inches above the left corner of his eye,” said Woods.
On a National Guard training exercise in South Georgia that same day, the Bobcat freshman would get a call he never wants to get again. “The Army called mom and said he’d been shot in the head, but he was alive,” said Woods. “You want to be optimistic when you get news like that and say you know he’s tough. But it really doesn’t matter how tough you are. He was shot in the head. You just want him to survive. I thought he was going to die.”
Well, in this day of instant communication anywhere on the planet, it wouldn’t be Facebook or Twitter that would give the Woods’ family the info they needed. “My cousin’s step-daughter was in Germany at the time,” said Woods. “She was married to a guy who was on a base in Kandahar. She called the base in the middle of the night and someone went and woke him. He then found a ride to the hospital and literally saw Bobby, talked to the doctors, and they said that he’d be all right.”
It was four hours from the time Woods’ family received the call from the Army until the good news on his brother arrived through back-door channels. “It was the longest four hours of my life,” said Woods. “Not too long after that, we got word from the Army that surgery was successful and they managed to get the bullet out of his head.”
It’s now been six months and multiple procedures later and Bobby continues his recovery at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. “And he says he wants to go back,” said Woods. “Mom spends a lot of time with him up there. As a result, she hasn’t got to see me play that much this season. I mean, I don’t care. I’m just glad Bobby’s here, you know?”
Captain Bobby Woods was never a basketball player like his Bobcat brother. “He played football, mostly,” said Woods. “Now my dad played basketball back in the day. He likes the game.” By the way, Brigadier General Robert Woods retired from 30 years of service in the U.S. Army in 2009. Woods was one of only approximately 300 Generals in the Army when he left the service for good. Woods’ father now serves as a vice president of a private corporation in Alabama.
“My mom was probably the biggest motivation in me becoming a basketball player,” said Woods. “When I was five years old, she was my first little league basketball coach.” And yes, you guessed it. Mrs. Woods served as an officer in the U.S. Army. Captain (Ret.) Nadine Woods attended and played basketball at Northwest Georgia High School, now Dade County High School, during her teenage years.
His love for the game even extended to the Middle East during his tour of duty in Iraq. “My father had a unit coming to the same place I was stationed and I asked for a favor,” said Woods. “His unit was active duty and had a little more money and opportunity than we did. So, I arranged to buy a basketball goal stateside and have it shipped with his unit. It took about a month and a half to arrive since it came by ship. But it was worth it. We played a lot of basketball over there.”
Born in 1987, Woods and his military family would move 15 times in 22 years. “I think that’s a lot to do with why I don’t go into active service,” said Woods. “I love my family. However, I know how it could be on Bobby and me at times. It was tough for everyone. I don’t think I would want to do that again with my family.” The military lifestyle also had a lot to do with him having limited high school experience before his stint with Georgia Northwestern.
“We actually moved to Dade County (Georgia) as one of our final moves,” said Woods. “But I had an injury early in my high school years and just never came back to the game.” As a result of calling Dade County home, though, Woods would meet someone who would play a big part in his role this year.
“Jesse (Moore) played ball in the same places I was catching pick-up games this past off-season,” said Woods. “We talked a lot about me trying out this season for Georgia Northwestern. Well, here we are!” Jesse Moore is one of two sophomore co-captains on this year’s Bobcat roster. Moore was the starting center two years ago at Dade County High School when Head Coach Glen Hicks’ Wolverines would stage an unlikely run deep into the Georgia State Basketball playoffs.
As a freshman at GNTC, Woods hopes to enter the nursing program this fall at the college. “When I was a kid, I actually wanted to be a marine biologist,” said Woods. “Then you get older and realize just how few colleges teach that, let alone how much they cost to attend! But after my time overseas, everything Bobby’s been through, and other factors, I’m excited about the chance to pursue a career in a health field.” Woods hopes to eventually complete a bachelor’s degree in route to becoming a doctor. “Yeah, I plan on being back for my sophomore year and sophomore season.”
With only four wins in this transition season at Georgia Northwestern, Woods and the rest of the Bobcats are working hard to figure out how to piece together wins. “Except for just a couple of games this season, no one has really blown us out,” said Woods. “We’d either be trailing by just a couple of points or have the lead at halftime. But then, there’d be a stretch in the second half where things simply didn’t go our way.”
As the Bobcats head into the post-season in the TCSGAA conference, Woods is interested to see what happens if they can turn things around. “It’s weird really. We know our strengths and weaknesses,” said Woods. “As a result, we’ve handled the losses we’ve earned as well as you can. I really would like to see how we’d handle winning big games in big situations.”
After the Christmas break, what was once a roster of 13 student-athletes was shrunk to only seven players. “We have really had to change our game,” said Bobcat Head Men’s Basketball Coach, David Stephenson. “Matt has really helped in the process. I’d say he is definitely the most improved player since summer tryouts.”
For this team of seven which has come together so well and learned how to play as a family, they’ve adopted a new slogan as they head down the stretch. “I started calling them the ‘Magnificent Seven’ as we came out of Christmas break,” said Stephenson. “The ‘Seven’ have worked harder and come together quicker than almost any team I’ve coached in my more than 20 years of coaching basketball.”
If the wins don’t come in the post-season tournament, what advice would General Woods have for his “floor general” son? “He’d say don’t whine,” says Woods. “He’d tell us to set goals and be productive. He wants you to take ownership of what you do. He would want us to find a way to end this season successful and make sure we do it the right way.”
Taking calculated risks and giving himself a chance to succeed is what Woods has done so well throughout his life. “My first memory, though, was of me at three-years-old,” said Woods. “I broke my arm jumping off a slide when we lived in Kentucky.” However, it’s the daredevil in this freshman student-athlete which has brought him through the toughest of times as well as on his way to a career that’s yet to come.
Still in the National Guard today, Woods can still be called to active duty at any time and possibly head back to the Middle East. “I’m proud to serve,” said Woods. “And, I’d go back if I had to. I’m hoping I can avoid going anywhere until after the tournament. But if push came to shove, I’d do anything to make sure my brother never goes back there, again. I never want to get that call again.”
The TCSGAA Conference Tournament will be held March 4-5 at Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Georgia Northwestern will grab the final seed in the post-season event. When Woods was asked if the tournament will be a battle, he quickly responded, “Well, I’ll say this. It’s not a battle, actually. But I really, really hate to lose. So it’ll be intense.”