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Jelani Woods: A fresh start, and a chance to shine, at Virginia

Jelani Woods
Jelani Woods. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Jelani Woods is a big tight end target – 6’7”, 265 pounds – who didn’t get a lot of targets in his three seasons at Oklahoma State.

That shouldn’t be an issue this fall at Virginia.

“Jelani is a really good addition to our team,” offensive coordinator Robert Anae said of Woods, who committed to Virginia in December. “What are the skill sets? Tall, big, strong, athletic, and then, man, you couple that with a really good football IQ, so, dang, I think I think we’re going to have a lot of good things to come.”

Woods, who graduated from Oklahoma State with a degree in management, and was named to the All-Big 12 Academic Team in 2020, figures to play a big role in Anae’s offense, which the veteran OC tweaked last year to get more touches for his tight ends with the arrival of another grad transfer, 6’7”, 260-pound Tony Poljan.

Poljan (Pro Football Focus 2020 season grade: 71.0) got 61 targets in 2020, finishing with 38 catches (four drops) for 411 yards and six TDs.

The 6.1 targets per game for Poljan in 2020 was a big increase from how Anae had been using his tight ends – in 2019, tight ends Tanner Cowley and Grant Misch got 2.7 targets per game, and Cowley and Evan Butts got 2.1 targets per game in 2018.

Woods (PFF 2020 season grade: 61.8), a two-time All-Big 12 honorable mention tight end, got a total of 45 targets in three years at Oklahoma State, catching 31 balls (four drops) for 361 yards and four TDs.

He entered the transfer portal on Dec. 21, and Virginia was the very first school to reach out.

“They hit me up in about 10 seconds, like, literally,” Woods said. “I remember I was in my room, I was laying down, just talking to my girl, and told her, yeah, just put my name in the transfer portal. And then next thing you know, I’m on Twitter, and I have five or six UVA coaches texting me, like, let’s talk and, you know, get on the phone real soon, and we want to talk about you, get your information and what I wanted to do. So I’d say it was a pretty, pretty quick process.”

He would commit to Virginia three days later.

“Coach Mendenhall just gave out a great impression,” Woods said. “He told me, a lot of teams tell you what they want, what they want, what they want, but you really don’t ever hear what they need. And that was pretty much the important message to me, because I always kept hearing what teams want, what they want, what they want. UVA was the only team that told me what they needed.

“And they, you know, you have proof, with Tony Poljan leaving, and I’d seen the value that he proposed here, and I felt like I can be that same way. So just with that advertisement in general, that just gave it a clear shot to commit here,” Woods said.

His first order of business was studying up on Virginia – watching film, learning the scheme, particularly how Anae used Poljan last season.

“I watched every game just to see, you know, stuff he was doing, to see if I would like the things he would do. Pretty much just doing research on it, and I loved what he was doing,” Woods said. “I felt like that was a perfect position and perfect stuff that I felt like I would be great at and, yeah, when I first got here, you know, me and coach sat down a couple of times, and he, you know, went over film, and he just pretty much showed me everything that he was doing, and, you know, we ran with it, and we’re doing it now.”

In addition to size, another thing that Woods and Poljan have in common is that they were top-shelf prep quarterbacks.

ESPN rated Woods the No. 25 pocket passer in the Class of 2017, and he was in the QB room at Oklahoma State before switching to tight end at the end of his freshman season, a move that Woods considers “the best I’ve ever made.”

“I feel very natural. I still feel like I’m at the quarterback element, like, the way of my movements and stuff like that. I feel like that’s an advantage for me, and, you know, I just do my thing with it,” Woods said.

He emphasizes that he feels no ill will at all toward his alma mater.

“Oklahoma State was the best experience pretty much in my life,” he said. “The coaches there, the atmosphere, the fans, everything, they treated me right, they treated me good. I loved it. I just felt like, you know, as time moved on, you know, I just had to do what’s best for me and my family. I thank them for everything they’ve done for me. I just felt like I had to, you know, create a new start.”

Story by Chris Graham

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