A Family Affair: Kilgore Head Coach Mike Wood Relishing Opportunity to Share State Title Experience With Sons
KILGORE -- Friday afternoon's Class 3A Division I state championship game will be extra special for Kilgore head coach Mike Wood.
Not only will he be leading his team into battle on the state's biggest stage, he gets to share the experience with his two sons -- Jarod and Caleb Wood, who start on opposite sides of the ball. Jarod is a junior tight end, while Caleb is a senior defensive end.
"It is special coaching my own sons," Coach Wood said. "Of course, I've got a lot of sons on this team -- the group of kids that they grew up with, the ones I've seen come up through little league. To see these kids grow and prosper on the field and to get a chance to go play on that stage, it's something that's really special. It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal."
Coach Wood was an assistant under longtime coach Mike Vallery in Kilgore's only other state finals appearance -- the 2004 Class 4A Division II title game, which the Bulldogs won over Dallas Lincoln with a blocked field goal return for a touchdown in double overtime.
Even though it's been nearly a decade since Kilgore's last trip to state, the memory is still fresh in the Woods' minds.
"I do remember it clearly, it was a great game," said Caleb. "I can't believe that I'm actually about to do it this Friday and relive this."
Coach Wood added: "They were young kids -- nine years old -- when we went to this game (in 2004) and they still remember it. They still have the T-shirts, and throughout the years they've talked about when they get to be varsity football players they're going to win a state championship. And we're fortunate enough to get to that point."
Growing up with a football coach as a father, the game was always surrounding Jarod and Caleb.
"We kinda grew up with football and grew to love it," Jarod said. "It's a great experience being able to go through and be able to play with my dad and my brother, and be able to play a game that we all love with a strong passion."
Both sons agreed that living with a coach has probably helped their development as players more than anything else.
"I thought it was a pretty good experience," Caleb said. "I always grew up playing football in the backyard and watching games with my dad and family. I think it really has helped me to progress as a player, and it's great to be in a state championship with my dad as the head coach. I think it all kinda ties together pretty nicely."
Coach Wood has witnessed his boys emerge as key pieces on Kilgore's run to the title game.
Jarod's primary responsibility is to seal the edge and allow running backs Kevrin Justice and Davieonta "JuJu" Brown to find room to run on the outside. When he's not blocking, Jared has had success in the passing game. He enters Friday's game with only six catches on the season, but four of them have gone for touchdowns, and his 31.8 yards-per-catch average is tops on the team.
Caleb is a member of Kilgore's ferocious front four. He is responsible for 9.5 of the Bulldogs' 53 sacks, and has made 68 tackles on the year.
"I told them a long time ago, 'you've got to play this game hard and you've got to be an effort kid,'" Coach Wood said. "One thing I am proud for both of them is they are. They play the game the way it's supposed to be played, with a lot of effort and a lot of heart."
Being the son of a head coach certainly has its advantages.
"I just love being able to come up here any time I want," Jarod said.
Oddly enough, at home, most of the football talk comes from another member of the family.
"We don't talk a whole lot at home about football," Coach Wood said. "Their mother likes to talk to them a lot about football, but we get home and talk about other things and share things as a family."
But there is sure to plenty of football-themed discussion in the Wood household in the coming days. After all, the sport has come to define the family and will be reaching its climax Friday when Kilgore faces Carthage for all the marbles.
"It's always been present; we've always wanted to do this," Caleb said. "All of our brothers have wanted to do this, it's a dream of ours and now that we're finally about to do it, it's just going to be a great opportunity."