Colby Wood took a sabbatical of sorts last fall.

After having toted the ball nearly 900 times in an illustrious prep career, the former Jefferson standout didn’t record a single carry in 2018 after leaving high school. He didn’t even don a jersey.

But a year away from football allowed Wood to rest and refocus. A player who churned up yardage and punished opposing defenses in high school knew he wanted to play again.

“I was just itching to get back into it,” he said.

And he has.

Wood has earned a roster spot on Reinhardt University’s football team. He is set to report for fall camp, which begins Aug. 5.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Wood said. “I’m blessed for the opportunity to play ball again.”

Wood, Jefferson’s all-time leading rusher, signed with Division-I Wofford out of high school but left the program without playing a game. Wood said there was nothing wrong with Wofford, but he didn’t feel the opportunity was best for him.

He made the most from his year away from the game. He enrolled at the University of North Georgia (UNG). He coached youth sports in Jefferson. He did some bass fishing on the UNG fishing team with his former high school fishing teammate, Eli Corbett. He also did his best to stay in shape, working out and running every couple of days.

“I feel great,” said Wood, who has bulked up to 200 pounds.

When it came to seeking a return to the game, Wood turned his attention to an in-state NAIA powerhouse. He reached out to Reinhardt, a program which played for the NAIA national title in 2017 and one that features a stout ground game. The Eagles ran for 339 yards a game last year and have led the NAIA in rushing four-straight years. Coach James Miller took a look at Wood’s film and stats and consulted Wood’s former high school teammate Logan Garner, who is a lineman for Reinhardt. A tryout and a scholarship offer soon followed.

“We worked him out,” Miller said. “He did a pretty good job. He’s a big, strong, fit kid. He’s 205 pounds and a very, very talented kid.”

Miller saw a running back with strong vision and one who could make a couple of cuts and go the distance.

“I wouldn’t say he’s a burner, but that’s kind of a misconception at running back,” Miller said. “I don’t think you have to be a burner to be a good running back. It’s really about your vision and your ability to show a burst within that first 10 yards, and he does a really good job of that.”

Wood also catches the ball well out of the backfield, which meshes well with Reinhardt’s offensive needs. His position at Reinhardt is something of a hybrid between a running back, tight end and receiver. “You’ve got to be talented when you get the ball in your hands, you’ve got to be a willing blocker and you’ve got to be able to run the route tree, and he shows all that stuff on film,” Miller said.

Miller said the program is excited to give Wood a second chance at his football career “and get back into what he loves to do.” And Reinhardt, in the process, is gaining a player who ran for 5,786 yards and 79 touchdowns in his career — including a 2,000-yard season as a sophomore — and earned multiple all-state honors.

“The opportunity to always add guys of his caliber to your football team, you rarely want to pass those things up,” Miller said.

That said, the coach said there’s a lot of work ahead for Wood. He will be competing mainly with three other backs at his position for playing time.

“He’s going to have to earn everything he wants,” Miller said. “Coming to us, nothing is going to be given to him. If he wants to make that bus and get on the travel team, then he’s going to have to earn everything he wants.”

Miller praised Wood’s character as he gets set to join Reinhardt’s team.

“The best thing about him is he’s a really good kid, from everything that I’ve gathered just talking on the phone with him and meeting him in person,” Miller said. “He’s a good kid that’s been raised the right way. That’s what we’re trying to do. We want kids in our program that are good people, guys that are always going to put the team first and he seems like one of those kids.”

For Wood, playing football at Reinhardt will allow him to do so in close proximity to family and friends. The school is located about an hour and a half away from Jefferson. Wood, who will major in nursing, said Reinhardt “feels right at home.”

“Growing up in Jefferson, a small town, everyone going to the games — instead of it being on Friday, it’s going to be Saturday in the afternoons and Saturday nights — but it still has that atmosphere,” he said. “I’m still up there kind of in the mountains where I can fish a little bit, so I love it.”

Wood joins three other former Dragons — Hunter Griffith, Garner and Isaiah Blake — on a Reinhardt team that has gone 43-6 the past four years. The Eagles expect another big year, and Wood is excited for what could unfold this fall.

“We have well-rounded athletes,” Wood said. “The coaches are saying, as far as any athletes that they’ve coached at Reinhardt, this could be the group. I know that working out with them, they’re extremely talented. We’re just looking forward to it.”

Reinhardt starts an 11-game regular season slate Aug. 24 at home against Webber (Fla.) International. After a year without a football in his hands, Wood expressed his gratitude for those who helped him find his way back to the game.

“I just want to thank (Jefferson football) coach (Gene) Cathcart, all the Jefferson faculty, the coaching staff for just being able to help me and guide me through this process to get back to play again. I’m extremely thankful for them,” Wood said.

Having stepped away from a Division I scholarship, taken an entire year off and then found a second chance, Wood described what getting back on the field in a game for the first time since 2017 might feel like.

“I’d be extremely thankful and just blessed with the opportunity, giving God all the glory, just not really proving anything to anyone except myself because I just missed the game,” he said. “Just getting back out there … I know there are some people that are like, ‘Yeah, that was kind of a crazy decision.’ Really just proving them wrong, but also doing what I have to do. I’m ready to get out there.”

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