PULLMAN — Linebacker Jahad Woods remembers when he was a freshman, how he and his teammates used to give Peyton Pelluer a hard time.
“We used to make fun of hin as a team because he was old,” Woods said of Pelluer, the inside linebacker who was granted a sixth season in 2018 because of an injury.
His teammates called Pelluer “Grandpa.”
At the time, Woods said he could not have imagined a situation where he would be at WSU for six seasons, but here he is.
Woods, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound tackling machine and unquestionably the leader of the Cougar defense, took advantage of an extra season of eligibility because of the pandemic.
No doubt coaches and teammates are happy he is back. But will he be called Grandpa?
“It would be hard to have a comeback to that because I am old,” Woods said. “I am 23 compared to these 18-year-olds, so there is a big age difference with a lot of these guys. But I am here with a lot of wisdom and I am here to give any advice.”
Woods was a redshirt freshman in 2017 when Pelluer broke his foot early in the season and was out for the year. Enter Woods, whose only Division I offers out of Helix High School outside of San Diego, were from WSU and San Jose State.
Woods immediately showed he belonged in the Pac-12, finishing second on the team with 64 tackles, including 10.5 tackles for loss. He was Pac-12 defensive player of the week after a season-high nine tackles and a game-clinching forced fumble on a sack during a win over No. 5 USC.
Pelluer was giving Woods advice along the way. The next year the two were on the field together as the starting linebackers — Pelluer playing in the middle and Woods on the weakside.
“He was very vocal, very personable, a great friend and a great teammate,” Woods said of Pelluer. “That is someone I just followed in his steps as far as leadership and holding people accountable.”
Woods, who earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities last year, has been all-Pac-12 honorable mention the past three years and is No. 10 all-time on WSU’s career tackle list with 315.
That has made him a leader by example, but he is now a vocal leader too.
“I have stepped out of my comfort zone because naturally I am an introvert and quiet,” Woods said. “But I got some feedback from coaches that I needed to be more of a vocal leader. That’s what I’ve been doing. It’s gotten way more easier. My teammates used to make fun of me for being quiet, but now I am stepping and being more of a vocal leader.”
Woods said he has made “physical and mental strides” since last season, his first under coach Nick Rolovich and defensive coordinator Jake Dickert.
“Obviously, we had a new coaching staff and we didn’t have the proper preparation — just the schematics and everything because of COVID,” Woods said. “With things lightening up, we had a winter session, spring ball and a summer session and we got to prepare the way we wanted to (for this season). Physically, I made strides in my (bench) press, my speed and everything is just improved and I feel it on the field.
“I take everything very seriously, and my nutrition and recovery as well.”
Washington State was 11th in the conference last season in scoring defense (38.5 points) and in yards allowed (461.8 yards per game), and Woods was not happy about that.
“It seemed we were always short a person or two,” Woods said. “Not to have any excuses, but there was a lot going on (WSU played just four of seven scheduled games). This year, I feel like we have the momentum to get the job done.”
Woods said he considered entering the NFL draft, but decided to return for a sixth season when he wasn’t happy with draft projections.
That, of course, was great news for WSU, and Woods said the Cougars have the potential to be good despite being predicted to finish last in the Pac-12 North.
“I think the ceiling is high for this team,” Woods said. “I have experienced an 11-2 team in 2018 and I’ve experienced 3-9 teams as well. Having both of those teams in perspective, I think we can be as good as that 11-2 team. The ceiling is high, man. The work and preparation we have put in this whole offseason is going to show up on game day for sure.”
Woods said he is appreciating every day more this season, after going through a season when there was so much disruption because of COVID-19. That included a game against California that was canceled as the Cougars were on the field warming up and a game against Stanford when they were on the bus to the stadium.
“We put in so much work to get ready for the week and for it to get canceled like that was hard to take,” Woods said.
Woods said the goal for him this year is to be the best linebacker in the Pac-12.
“I know what I’m capable of and I know the work I put in,” he said. “I put in so much work and so much effort into this game, why wouldn’t I put the ceiling high for myself in my last year of college football?”