Former Michigan football player debuts at Duke as old team sidelined

On the same field where J’Marick Woods donned a winged helmet two years ago, he’ll make his debut Saturday as a member of the Duke Blue Devils.
In front of Touchdown Jesus and in the shadow of Notre Dame’s Golden Dome, the ex-Michigan football safety’s career is set to begin a new chapter as his former team remains sidelined because of the Big Ten’s decision to postpone sports.
Maybe it was cosmic intervention.
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Perhaps it was fate and the touch of the invisible hand that has guided him to this point, allowing him to pursue his passion during the most challenging period of his lifetime.
Woods couldn’t say for certain, but he is a believer in such things.
“God puts you in places and situations for the right reason,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’m in the right place and this is the right reason.”
The irony attached to his new reality is not lost on Woods, who entered the NCAA transfer portal in October and enrolled at the ACC school in January with two years of eligibility in hand. He left U-M, in part, because playing time had been limited. Now, months later, he has the opportunity to experience more game action than the biggest star on the Wolverines.
It’s an unusual twist that puts him in rare company. After former Michigan players Devin Gil and Stephen Spanellis opted out of the season at their new programs, Woods and Texas receiver Tarik Black are the only contributors from the 2019 Wolverines roster in line to play a college game this fall.
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Woods could gloat about his stroke of good fortune.
But instead he feels sorry for his former teammates after they’ve confided in him and expressed their frustration following the Big Ten’s shutdown.
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“Because we all love football,” he said. “We have played football since we’re little. When you take away a sport like football…”
It hurts.
One of Woods’ good friends, Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye, has felt the pain. In a recent conference call with reporters, he didn’t hide the agony.
“To see other teams play, it’s like ‘If they can play, how come we can’t play?'” Paye said Sept. 3. “I watched another team play last Saturday and I’m like, ‘That could have been us.'”
The Big Ten’s decision invited an immediate backlash, from both near and far. A player petition asking for the reinstatement of the season was launched while parents staged protests, including one last Saturday that was held outside Michigan Stadium and attended by head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Not far from where they would have touched the famed “M” Club banner, defensive lineman Carlo Kemp wore street clothes and held up a different sign.
“It should be game day,” it read.
As the unrest billowed in Ann Arbor, Woods trained with his new team down on Tobacco Road and familiarized himself with a different defensive scheme that featured a heavier diet of zone concepts than what he was asked to execute at Michigan.
But Woods acknowledged the transition to a new program has been awkward after spring football was curtailed by the pandemic.
Five months elapsed between on-field practices, and meetings were conducted through the Zoom conference call platform.
[ College football moves on without Michigan football, MSU ]
The majority of his classes in his graduate business program have also taken place in the virtual space, which has necessitated its own acclimatization process.
Yet Woods has no complaints.
He moved to Duke in search of a fresh start after spending his Michigan career as a backup defensive back and special teams contributor.
With the Blue Devils, he’s expected to have a more expansive role. Although he’s not a starter, Woods said he’s a part of the rotation in Duke’s secondary and has been included in a number of the sub packages.
“It’s really a blessing just to be here and get ready with this group of guys,” he said. “I’m just thankful we’re able to pl…
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