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Idaho Football

‘He’s really a special talent’: Running back Anthony Woods quickly becomes star in Idaho backfield

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

MOSCOW, Idaho – Last week, Anthony Woods put together one of the best rushing performances in Idaho football history.

The Vandals sophomore is one of the most productive ball-carriers in the Football Championship Subdivision, and he’s quickly moving up in the Idaho record books.

Woods feels like he’s only scratched the surface.

“I was good, but I can do better,” Woods said earlier this week. “It’s a great feeling, but I can have a better performance.”

Woods had a career-high of 211 rushing yards – averaging 9.2 yards per carry – and scored five touchdowns on the ground to spearhead No. 3 Idaho’s 44-36 win over Eastern Washington on Saturday in Cheney.

For his efforts, Woods was named FCS National Player of the Week and the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week.

Woods became the second player in Vandals history to score five or more rushing touchdowns in a game – Roshaun Johnson had six TDs during a win over Southern Utah in 2021. Woods’ yardage total against EWU ranks No. 10 in single-game Idaho program history.

“He’s capable of doing that every week,” Idaho running backs coach Thomas Ford said. “He’s such an explosive player. He’s got great vision and unbelievable instincts. Was I surprised? Not really, to be honest. I felt like this was coming for him.”

High expectations were placed on Woods coming into his second collegiate campaign. He claimed starting duties as a true freshman in 2022, and paced the Vandals with 872 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Woods landed on the All-Big Sky preseason first team before this season.

Through five games, he’s been a big part of a high-powered offense that also features one of the nation’s premier quarterbacks and a couple of All-American receivers.

“He’s a dynamic football player, a very talented young man,” Idaho coach Jason Eck said of Woods. “He’s been outstanding, and we’re going to need him to keep being outstanding.”

Woods ranks seventh nationally and first in the Big Sky Conference with 593 rushing yards. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder leads the conference and sits in a tie for second in the FCS with nine rushing touchdowns.

Woods said he’s only shown glimpses of his potential, and the Vandals’ offense isn’t firing on all cylinders yet.

“We’re not even at our best,” Woods said. “We’re doing enough to win games, but we’ve still got a lot to work on.”

Woods and the Vandals (4-1, 2-0 Big Sky) will look to keep building on their season when they meet Cal Poly (2-3, 0-2) 5 p.m. Saturday in San Luis Obispo.

The Vandals are on pace in their quest for a second straight FCS playoff appearance. Leading the way for Idaho is an offensive attack that has shown more balance and versatility than some might have anticipated coming into the season.

Much of the preseason hype revolved around Idaho’s passing offense, but the ground game has also been effective with Woods .

Woods made a significant jump between his freshman and sophomore seasons, packing on about 15 pounds .

“I think maybe the biggest jump for him was just in the mental side of the game,” Ford said. “He understands (the game), and now he’s playing much faster and more physically.”

Idaho Vandals running back Anthony Woods stretches for a first down against Eastern Washington defensive end Brock Harrison on Saturday at Roos Field in Cheney.  (James Snook/For The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho Vandals running back Anthony Woods stretches for a first down against Eastern Washington defensive end Brock Harrison on Saturday at Roos Field in Cheney. (James Snook/For The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Woods became stronger and looks like a complete package at tailback . He boasts breakaway speed – Woods has logged carries of 93 and 60 yards – with a swift cut and the strength required to break through contact near the line of scrimmage.

“Not a lot of running backs are physical, fast, and have cuts and vision,” Woods said. “That sets me apart.”

Woods has “a knack for making guys miss” and, despite his smaller stature, never shies from contact, Eck said. Woods’ instincts and acceleration are traits that stand out to Ford.

“He does a really good job of feeling where people are around him, even if he doesn’t see them,” Ford said. “Then he just has an excellent burst. His change of speed is unlike any I’ve seen in my 17 years of coaching. He’s able to start and stop, and change directions on a dime. He’s really a special talent.”

Ford recognized Woods’ abilities immediately when the Palmdale, California, native first arrived in Moscow in summer 2022. But the coach figured it’d be a longer process for a true freshman to adjust to the college game.

“As we got through fall camp … it was pretty clear he was our best player at the position,” Ford said. “We certainly didn’t expect that from him. We had four veteran backs and he was kind of a bonus. We didn’t think he’d come in and have an impact so quickly – he became our starter in Week 3. We definitely thought he had the ability, but he was definitely ahead of schedule.”

From a young age, Woods had dreamed of playing college football. His father Rodney was a defensive back at Oregon, and his older brother played at the junior college level.

Anthony Woods was an all-league tailback at Palmdale High in Southern California. He totaled 1,580 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior, but wasn’t recruited much.

Ford said college scouts were probably turned off by Woods’ size. Woods acknowledged he “didn’t really try to put myself out there until my senior year.”

After his senior season, Woods had only one Division I offer, from Utah Tech. But Ford learned about him in January 2022. Ford, who served as an assistant at Washington from 2020-21, heard about Woods through a former Huskies co-worker.

“He told me, ‘I got this kid. He’s real good, but we’re not going to be able to take him. You should take a look at him,’ ” Ford said. “I looked at (Woods’) film and I honestly couldn’t believe he was still available in late January.”

Ford extended an offer to Woods, who was impressed by Idaho’s facilities and intrigued by the prospects of playing early in his career.

“Coach Ford told me straight up that I could compete,” Woods said. “I knew, if I got a shot, I could take advantage of it. … I caught on fast.”

Now, just 17 games into his collegiate career, he’s the No. 21 career rusher in Vandals history with 1,465 yards. There’s likely plenty more to come for Woods, whose career is still young and whose full potential isn’t known.