Out of the Woods: Rattlers rookie DB learning the ropes in dominant season

Kyree Woods has helped Arizona secure the second-best defense in the Indoor Football League. The Rattlers enter the playoffs allowing fewer than 180 yards per game. (Photo by Matt Hinshaw/AZ Rattlers)

Kyree Woods makes a tackle during the Arizona Rattlers’ 38-23 home win over the Bay Area Panthers on May 29. (Photo by Matt Hinshaw/AZ Rattlers)

MESA – No player in the Indoor Football League this season has defended more passes than Kyree Woods.

Only a rookie, Woods has broken up 22 passes and intercepted six for a total of 28 passes defended, four more than Arizona Rattler’s teammate Dillon Winfrey. However, despite his dominant play, Woods isn’t fully settled into his new environment.

“It’s new,” he said. “I never played arena, so I’m learning new stuff every week, every day. And I’m happy here with the Rattlers, and I’m blessed every single day I get to walk in this door and just try to give my team 100% every day.”

A former three-star cornerback at Chandler High School, Woods spent his entire collegiate career at San Diego State. He recorded 73 total tackles, including 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in four seasons. But the way his time ended with the Aztecs was less than ideal.

“I tore my ACL my senior year in college,” Woods said. “I didn’t get my medical redshirt, so I just did rehab and recovered for a year. In 2021, I came back for Pro Day. Numbers weren’t too hot, and teams are going to pass on you when you have to come back from an ACL and didn’t play for a year. So I was just waiting and waiting.”

The Rattlers eventually invited Woods to try out for the team.

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“We don’t really get a lot of local guys,” Rattlers head coach Kevin Guy said. “We recruit nationwide, so it’s very rare that we get a local guy. But he’s done a nice job for us.”

Transitioning from American football to arena football requires a huge learning curve. There are several key differences between the two, and it’s a tough adjustment for defensive backs. For example, while American football features only horizontal motion, arena football features both horizontal and vertical motion, allowing receivers and running backs to get upfield and into their routes faster.

“That’s the biggest thing that defensive backs have to learn when it comes to the league here,” Guy said. “But (Woods) has learned the techniques. We’ve got him playing square, and he’s done a good job of buying in and executing.”

Woods was one of only two players to receive IFL Player of the Week honors three times this season. Woods received his second nomination after a Week Four performance where he made seven tackles, two pass breakups, and two interceptions–one of them returned for a touchdown.

It’s not just Woods’s play on the field, but also his personality that makes him a well-liked player for the franchise.

“He’s a good guy, man,” said Allen Chapman, a former Rattler’s defensive back and the team’s current defensive backs coach. “He’s got a good head on his shoulders and is a hell of a fellow teammate.”

Woods credits his teammates for helping him with his progression and maturation in the game, crediting such players as Davontae Merriweather and Dillion Winfrey for taking him in as a “little brother” and showing him the ropes.

“They helped me a lot on field and off the field,” Woods said. “It’s great to be around guys like that.”

The Rattlers (13-3) clinched the top seed in the Western Conference last Sunday with a 49-31 victory against the Vegas Knight Hawks. The win also clinched home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs, where the Rattlers look to return to the United Bowl for the third consecutive year and win their first league title since 2017. The Rattlers will play the Duke City Gladiators in the first round of the playoffs Sunday at Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix.

“That’s the biggest thing,” Woods said. “When you’re playing football, you want to play to win. The whole game is to win, so we’re just happy to be in this position trying to get the championship.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Michael Burgess II expects to graduate August 2022 with his master’s in sports journalism. Completing his undergraduate degree at Howard University, Burgess has covered sports for AZPreps365 and the Daily Independent in Phoenix.