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Coming into his own

Wood

Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood has been a mystery to many fans since his arrival.

The 6-foot, 210-pound sophomore from Oxnard, Calif., came in as one of the Irish's top recruits in 2009.

But he didn't play a single down last season.

It looked like he was going to get his chance this season when coach Brian Kelly moved Theo Riddick from running back to slot receiver clearing the way for Wood to move up the running back depth chart.

But even though he won the No. 2 spot behind Armando Allen, Wood was used sparingly at the start of the season.

“I know I have the talent to be out there. I know I was good enough to be out there. I just took a deeper look. What's the fundamentals? What am I doing wrong? I corrected all of that, and as you can see, I'm on the field now,” Wood said of waiting for his time.

Wood has replaced Allen in the starting lineup after Allen was lost for the season because of a hip injury.

And with freshman Tommy Rees playing quarterback, Wood has been used heavily in the offense running for 71 yards in a 28-3 win over Utah on Nov. 13 and 88 yards in a 27-3 win over Army last Saturday.

“He's learned so much that he didn't have all the answers,” Kelly said of Wood. “Last year at this time when he was sitting there, he's like, ‘Why can't I play? Why am I not on the field?' I think as we've gone through the season, he has seen why maybe he wasn't on the field last year, because it's not all about how fast you are, it's about protection, catching the ball, ball security, all of those things.

“So more than anything else, his personality is such, it's been maturity. Maturing has been that ingredient for him. He's growing up as a young man, and that's why I think he's beginning to have the success that he thought he would.”

The maturation process for Wood wasn't easy.

He appeared to be a favorite target of Kelly's wrath early in the year.

“He kept saying my number. It was irritating at first because I kept messing up, and (he would say) ‘20!' Just screaming at me,” Wood said.

“Sometimes was right behind me, he was screaming, and I'm like ‘I'm right here, you know.' At the same time, it's like if I do what I got to do I wouldn't have to hear him scream at me.”

Wood didn't have to just win over his coach. He also had to win over some of his teammates.

Linebacker Manti Te'o, who arrived in the same recruiting class with Wood, said his first impression of the running back wasn't favorable.

“They thing with Cierre, you got to clarify, is we didn't like each other at first,” Te'o said. “Here's a guy who came in as a red shirt and his chin could almost touch the clouds. Looking at him, we almost fought in front of our coach's yard. But there is a mutual respect (now).”

That respect between Wood and Te'o was forged by the running backs performance at practice in which he didn't shy away from the linebacker during drills.

“He reminded me of the guys at home,” Te'o said. “When you try to square somebody up, they will try to square you up to.”

The Journal Gazette's Assistant Sports Editor Tony Krausz covers The University of Notre Dame. Krausz, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a native of St. Louis, has been assistant sports editor since October 2005. Prior to joining the JG, he worked at two papers in Mississippi covering high school and college athletics.

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