DiVon Woods just wants to be great.
The Lakewood senior is a long-time member of the Gators' football team, starring as a linebacker and running back this past season. He's also been a member of the wrestling team since the sport returned to the school four years ago. His junior year included him making it to the state championship meet.
He's proud of the work he's done and wants to take things further. This senior season is the pinnacle of the work he's put in for a sport that was new to him as a freshman.
"Ever since I was younger, when I see people better than me, I want to get to the level they are at or past them," DiVon said. "I want to be looked at as better than everybody. At the same time, I know I have to keep a calm mindset when doing that, so I don't get cocky.
"I feel like it's taken me a long time to get where I'm at," DiVon continued. "You've really got to work at it to get better because wrestling isn't a sport that you can just pick up and automatically be good at. I like it because it is challenging. The biggest challenge was the mental (aspect). Wrestling is a hard sport physically but more so mentally. When you have someone on top of you and you have to try and not get pinned, there's a mindset you have to have in order to not lose. I didn't really start getting good until my sophomore and junior years. The most important thing for me was seeing that I was getting better. I was seeing that all my work that I was putting in was actually paying off.
STARTING FROM THE BOTTOM
The work on the wrestling mat for DiVon started after football season his freshman year. DiVon and Jayden "Scooby" Jones tried out for the wrestling team and began the journey of growing the program.
"I've known Scooby since we were playing parks and rec basketball in fifth grade, and we got to high school and we've just stuck together, "DiVon explained. "We both tried out for basketball our freshman year, and we didn't make it so we went and wrestled. There were only seven people on the team, and Scooby and I were the only freshmen. Wrestling was really small here. We were still going to tournaments and stuff, but we were trying to get our name established as a team.
"It's been fun to take a sport that isn't as known around here and help it to grow. It's funny. When people hear that you're wrestling, people think it's funny. They think it's like WWE and stuff like that. It's been cool to see their responses to different types of wrestling. My freshman year, I was the same way when coach [Josh] Williams told me to come out here. I thought it was something crazy, but I'm glad I fell in love with it."
Playing two physical sports can take a toll on the body. DiVon understands the challenge and has learned how to manage. While some physical challenges are consistent across the sports, there are also major differences, particularly in what muscles are being strained.
"Football season is really taxing, but wrestling is worse," DiVon said. "You work out muscles you don't really feel on a daily basis, so it's really hard. Your body is getting stretched and going in different directions it usually doesn't go, so you've got to try to keep it protected."
The transition between sports is also crucial.
"After football season they usually give me a one- or two-week grace period to get my mind and body back right after football season," DiVon explained. "I don't have to worry about cutting [weight] at all. During football season, you want to keep as much weight as you can to play. After football season, they never make us cut weight, we can choose to wrestle at whatever class we are near."
There was a football moment during his junior year that helped to shape his mentality going forward.
"Football helped to shape my mindset. Coach Williams helped with that, too," DiVon said. "My 11th-grade year I was starting on varsity, but I wasn't performing as good as I should have, and Coach Williams benched me. It made me sit back and reevaluate myself. It humbled me a lot. So now, I'm more self-critical and try to over excel."
OFF THE MAT
DiVon has three sisters and a niece. As the only men in the family, DiVon and his father, Damion, formed a natural bond around sports.
"I like being outside," DiVon said. "Fishing, dirt bikes, anything really. Most of my time outside of sports is doing that and other things with my dad. My dad and I are really close. I'm the only son, so that's helped us be closer. We go through the same stuff, so we talk a lot, and he's really helped me to be a better person."
Damion appreciates DiVon's willingness to lend a helping hand.
"I've got my own landscaping company," the elder Woods explained. "I do a lot of outside stuff and when he's out of school, he helps me with that. We also go fishing a lot. When he was younger he did Boy Scouts and also played Pop Warner. I had coached him up until he got to Lakewood. DiVon is just a spectacular young man."
DiVon's mother, April, raves about her son's maturity level and sense of selflessness.
"DiVon is very laid back and kind of mellow. He's sensitive and spiritually grounded. He enjoys going to church," his mother said. "He has depth and character for his age. He's a leader. When DiVon was in fifth grade, going into middle school, I became seriously ill and we had to bounce back from that. So I think that has a lot to do with his maturity and him relying on his faith a lot."
DiVon has aspirations of being a business owner one day and retiring early. He wants to go to college for mechanical engineering and business and has his sights on playing football or wrestling, depending on how the postseason goes.
"He's good with his hands and with engineering, and he's always excelled in STEM robotics," April explained. "When he was in middle school, he actually taught a robotics class. He's dually enrolled in college courses and was just named a USC scholar at USC Sumter."
SETTING THE EXAMPLE
Coach Williams has been there in DiVon's journey every step of the way. He's seen him develop into a great athlete in two positions on the football field and into one of the best wrestlers in the state.
"When I first met him during football, he was very small and not very good with his feet," Williams said. "His sophomore year, I still had him on JV. In a couple of weeks, we had a scrimmage. I put him out there against varsity, then took him out after five plays because I knew he would be starting. It was the same thing with wrestling. The first year, it took us going all through December for him to get going. His December record was maybe three or four wins and like 10-14 losses, and then it completely flipped in January, and he hasn't turned back since then. He keeps getting better every year."
Obviously, DiVon's skill on the gridiron and mat are beneficial for any coach, but that's not the only thing Williams enjoys about the senior.
"I love having him as a leader. It makes my life easier," Williams said. "As a coach, you sit there and think it'd really be nice to have one or two guys that are vocal and lead. I'm lucky to have him for two sports. He's good with the rest of the kids, they look up to him. For example in our match against Wilson, he started us off. The kid he faced was tough and ended up beating him, and everybody wrestled badly after that. The team goes the way he goes most of the time, when he gets out there and can get a win, I know wins from others will follow after that."
Lakewood head football coach Larry Cornelius spoke on the impact that DiVon has as a leader on the Gators' football team but also as a leader in the school.
"He's someone we can always count on," Cornelius said. "He's been a captain for us in football and has always maintained his grades. He's always been a hard worker, especially in the offseason when it comes to perfecting his craft. He's more of a leader by example. He has a really good relationship with younger guys, and he's quick to help them out. Not all the upperclassmen are like that. He's very patient with the young guys, that's what makes him great. He's been big in getting our wrestling program and football program where it needs to be."
DiVon wants to be a state champion. There's a few challenges he'll have to face to make that a possibility when the postseason comes around in a couple of weeks, but he won't be content with just making it back to the state meet.
"My favorite moment in wrestling was losing in states last year," DiVon said. "I remember coming off the mat thinking that I was not going to let my season end like that this year."
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