With 27 players lost to graduation, including their entire defensive unit, the outlook for Bel Air's football team looked bleak at best.
That was until Mike Wood's pursuit of a curriculum unavailable at Havre de Grace landed him in the Bobcats' backfield.
Wood, a 5-foot-7, 180-pound running back who bench-presses twice his weight, runs a 4.4 in the 40-yard -- and carries a 3.38 grade-point average. He was granted a "boundary exception" from county school officials this summer, much to the delight of Bel Air coach Bruce Riley.
"Mike Wood would be a great addition to any team, and it's his work ethic that sets him apart," said Riley. "Whether he steps on the football field on Monday afternoon for practice or Friday night for a game, he plays as hard as he can all the time. If they're running against [blocking] dummies or live, he's going 100 percent, and that's what makes him special."
Wood didn't wait long to show his new teammates why he has drawn the attention of such big-name schools as Michigan State, West Virginia, Penn State, Pitt, Syracuse and Maryland. In his debut as a Bobcat, Wood piled up 265 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns, two coming on kick returns in a 34-14 season-opening win over Kenwood.
Wood, a member of Street and Smith's preseason honorable-mention All-America team, injured his leg last season at Havre de Grace, but not before rushing for 704 yards on 91 carries (a 7.7-yard average) in seven games. Hedemonstrated his resilience last spring by successfully defending his Harford County 100-meter -- title.
"I have never coached a back with his speed and strength," said Riley, who saw Wood bench-press 365 pounds this summer. "He's helped the kids on our football team raise their level of play.
"Mike has good football sense and he's picked things up quickly. He has the ability to make an adjustment at full speed and just when you think you have him, he spins out of it or gives you a juke, then he's going down the sidelines, and unless you have someone with some serious speed you're not going to catch him."
Like the rest of his teammates, Bel Air captain and senior offensive tackle Tim Schindler tries to make Wood feel welcome at Bel Air, even if it means he has to sustain his blocks a "little longer."
"He hits the hole well, he's fast and he reads blocks very well," said Schindler, 6-4 and 240 pounds. "He's a great addition to our team.
"One thing about playing with him is you have to hold your blocks a little longer because even if we're running a sweep to the other side of the field he may end up on your side."
Wood hasn't decided where he will play his college ball, and right now he is focusing on raising his academic levels and taking Bel Air's football team to new heights.
"It was strange coming to a new school and all at first, but everyone's been great and the players and coaches have been real supportive," said Wood, who transferred to take advanced placement courses in government and anatomy and physiology. "I came to Bel Air to improve academics and to help my chances of going to a Division I school. The transition has been easy because I have a lot in common with the players. We both want to win and we both want to play football."