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Baseball

 

Former Decatur star LaDarius Woods swings the bat for the Calhoun Warhawks

Former Decatur star LaDarius Woods swings the bat for the Calhoun Warhawks

By David Elwell, Sports Writer, Decatur Daily
Feb 1, 2018

LaDarius Woods still flashes that big smile he showed when he played for the Decatur High Red Raiders.

It didn't matter if it was one of his power touchdown runs at Ogle Stadium or one of his home runs next door at the baseball field, the smile was like a punctuation mark.

Now the best place to see that smile is at Fred Frickie Park at Calhoun Community College. Woods has changed from the red and black to the Warhawks' blue. Calhoun opened the season Wednesday with Woods starting at second base.

"Those were great times at Decatur, and I'm looking for some great times at Calhoun," Woods said. "I'm excited about this season."

Calhoun baseball coach Mike Burns is excited, too. It's a far cry from what the veteran coach felt in July when the school announced it was going to shut down the athletic program after this spring.

"We found other places for everybody on the team, if they wanted to leave," Burns said. "They all stayed with us. That tells you something about these guys that they wanted to stick together."

The outlook for the baseball program became less dire in November when Calhoun said funds from north Alabama's legislative delegation will allow baseball, softball and golf to continue into at least 2019. Fundraising could keep the sports thriving long after that.

This season looks promising. Calhoun has 16 sophomores on the roster. The team's entire pitching staff from last season is back. Mix in some offense, and the Warhawks could be a contender for a state championship. That's where someone like Woods enters the picture.

"He's always had great bat speed, and he showed that in the fall," Burns said. "I don't think he will have any trouble making the transition" from high school to junior college.

Woods said playing for Decatur against a schedule that featured some top-rated talent has made the step up easier. He has noticed some difference.

"You see a lot more breaking balls up here, and they are better breaking balls," Woods said. "Also, there are lot of players that can make plays. In one game in the fall, I had what I thought was a base hit up the middle. The second baseman made a diving play behind second base and threw me out from his knees. You didn't see that in high school."

Since his youth when he played T-ball in Florence for the Diamondbacks, the son of pastor C. Dwight Woods and Latresha Woods felt baseball was his sport. Even when he started making a name for himself on the football field, baseball was still No. 1. When other high school players were making the football camp circuit at different colleges during the summer, Woods was playing baseball. That may have hurt his opportunities when it came to football recruiting.

Despite rushing for 2,175 yards and 18 touchdowns in his senior season, The Daily's Class 5A-6A Player of the Year did not receive a single college football scholarship offer. He had several baseball offers and decided to go with Alabama A&M.

"They offered me a full ride," Woods said. "I didn't think I could turn that down."

Alabama A&M baseball competes in NCAA Division I. Each program has 11.7 scholarships to divide up how it sees fit. A full ride is one scholarship. Those are rare.

After deciding on A&M, Woods played a big role in one of the best baseball seasons in Decatur High history. Teammate Tanner Burns, the top player in the state, got most of the attention, but Woods had a season to remember. He hit .398 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs. He had a knack for getting big hits in key situations.

Before graduation in May, word came down that Alabama A&M's athletic department was placed on academic probation by the NCAA. That meant that none of the school's teams could advance to NCAA tournaments.

"I wanted the chance to be seen by pro scouts," Woods said. "I decided I needed to go somewhere else for more exposure."

Calhoun was an easy choice. Mike Burns is Tanner's father. Woods and Tanner Burns are good friends.

"He's been over at our house so much over the years that he's like another son," Mike Burns said.

Decatur teammates Charlie Crane and Jackson Lovelace also have joined the Warhawks. Other area players on the team are Colt Dozier of Austin, Hayden Bradford of Hartselle, Aaron Cartee of Priceville and Seth Underwood of Ardmore.

"It' great to be playing with people you know and playing for someone I've known for a long time," Woods said.

Right now, Woods is focused on the Warhawks' season, but it's hard for him to not think about the options ahead. He has many. After one season of junior college baseball, he's eligible for the major league draft this summer. He also could transfer to a four-year school. Or he could stay at Calhoun for a second season.

There's also a football option that's popped up. Auburn has offered him chance to join the football program as a preferred walk-on when fall camp opens in August.

"I'll probably just stick with baseball, but it's great to have options," Woods said with a big smile.