Like many who regularly make the I-90 run between Spokane and Seattle, Buddy Wood never thought much about Ellensburg, the town he would cruise past about midway through the drive.
“From the Interstate, all you see is a bunch of gas stations and fast-food restaurants,” said Wood, a Chatteroy resident and former three-sport standout at Riverside High School. “It never seemed like that great a place.”
At least not until Wood took a football recruiting trip to Central Washington University, the NCAA Division II school located in the northeast section of the town.
“I was really surprised by what I found,” Wood said. “On that trip, I went a little deeper into the town and found out it was really nice, and a great place to live.”
He also found out that John Zamberlin, CWU’s head football coach at the time, was willing to part with some scholarship dollars if Wood was willing to become a Wildcat.
Prior to that, the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder had made recruiting visits to Washington State, Oregon and Eastern Washington and received an invitation from each of those larger universities to walk on to their football teams – which wasn’t exactly the kind of love Wood was looking for.
“The higher up you went in Division I schools, the more they treated you like a piece of property instead of a valuable asset to the team,” Wood said. “But at Central, it was different, and I really like it.
“I enjoyed the coaches, the players were great and I could tell right away the program there was built on a bunch of guys who just absolutely love the game of football and aren’t there for the money or the publicity. They just like to play.”
So Wood accepted Zamberlin’s offer and quickly established himself as the cornerstone of the Wildcats’ defense at the strong-side linebacker position, where he led the team in tackles as a sophomore and junior and is back atop the tackles chart again this fall.
After redshirting because of back problems his freshman year, Wood returned to the field during fall 2006 and started nine of 11 games, finishing second on the team in tackles.
Last Saturday, he made his 30th consecutive start as the fifth-ranked and unbeaten Wildcats (5-0) bussed to Pocatello, Idaho, and flattened Idaho State, a Football Championship Subdivision school out of the Big Sky Conference, 33-22. The Bengals (0-4) are coached by Zamberlin, the first of the three coaches Wood has played under at Central, and Wood celebrated the reunion by making five tackles – including 21/2 for losses, forcing one fumble and recovering another, which he returned 5 yards for a second-quarter touchdown – his second of the season and the third of his career.
Wood’s effort pushed his career tackles total to 319 and kept him on pace to break the Wildcats’ all-time record of 370 set by Blake Walker (2001-04). He already has the career record for assisted tackles with 165 and recently moved into the school’s career top-10 list with 311/2 tackles for losses.
“Every time that ball is snapped, he wants to be involved in that tackle,” CWU coach Blaine Bennett told the Ellensburg Daily Record. “He’s a smart player. He’s got great strength, good size and good speed. He’s a complete player.”
And a player, no doubt, who could have fit in at Eastern Washington, where another of his former coaches at Central – Beau Baldwin – heads the Eagles’ football program.
“I was very, very close to going to Eastern, but then, again, I had a better recruiting trip here,” Wood said. “Central just felt like a better fit, and so far it’s been the right decision.
“I’ve been happy here, and I’m not into dwelling on the past.”
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