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TOM Weights in on the Possible Landing Spots for Real Woods

Stanford 141-pound Pac 12 champion (2020) and two-time NCAA qualifier (2020, 2021), Real Woods. Photo courtesy of Sam Janicki/(SamJanickiPhoto.com).

As we move further into the NCAA wrestling offseason, things begin to slow. With that, breaking news becomes more sporadic, and chatters of transferring begin to quiet. However, one of the biggest names in college wrestling, Stanford 141-pounder Real Woods, is still undecided about his next destination.

The Open Mat has decided to weigh in on the probable suitors for the 2019 Pac-12 champ and two-time NCAA qualifier out of powerhouse Montini Catholic in Lombard, Illinois.

Here are the most likely options (in no particular order) for Real Woods.

Penn State

Admittedly, Penn State is not the most logical option for Woods, but Cael and the Nittany Lions should never be ruled out. Thus far, every marquee name currently looking to transfer, specifically Shane Griffith and Max Dean, and others have been linked to the Lions at some point, so Woods should be too.

The training partners, the coaching, and the RTC access in Happy Valley are all second to none. Additionally, Penn State is always in a title hunt every season. The 2021-22 season will be no different, especially if PSU lands an elite transfer or two in addition to an already impressive starting 10. It’s also hard to overlook the success the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club has had on the international circuit recently, which likely appeals to Woods.

The apparent knock of Penn State landing Woods is that there is a surplus of talent at the lower weights. Not only is Penn State returning the defending national champs at 133 and 141 in Roman Bravo-Young and Nick Lee, but Beau Bartlett – who just won a Junior World title this week – is in the mix at 141/149. Additionally, high school senior standouts Shayne Van Ness and Alex Facundo, both top-10 nationally, project as middleweights at the next level and will be on the roster in 2022.

Michigan

Michigan and Real Woods have been connected since Woods announced his decision to transfer after Stanford shockingly decided to drop the program beginning in 2021-22. While Michigan would likely say it underperformed during the 2021 postseason (4th at Big Tens and 5th at NCAAs), the Wolverines were undoubtedly close, just five points behind podium-finisher Arizona State in the team race. And, in Michigan’s defense, it was a program that was hit hard by COVID-19-related stoppages this past season. Who knows what impact that had on the final result.

In the classroom, Michigan is similar in status and reputation to Stanford. Michigan competes in the Big Ten, which is a selling point for any elite scrapper. Concerning practice partners, Woods will have 2021 Olympian Stevan Micic and former Montini teammate Dylan Ragusin. Chance Lamer, a top prep prospect out of Oregon, will also be heading to Ann Arbor this fall. Lamer would be another quality sparring partner for Woods.

Lastly, there is a very close connection between Woods, his former coach, Israel “Izzy” Martinez, and current Michigan head coach Sean Bormet. Like Martinez, Bormet also has deep roots in the Illinois high school wrestling community as a native of Naperville, Illinois. With all this in mind, being in the Wolverines practice room will certainly feel like “home” for Woods.

North Carolina

The Tar Heels haven’t been discussed as extensively as some other programs currently in the Real Woods sweepstakes, but I think I think it still makes sense as a worthwhile option.

North Carolina is a wrestling program that is on the rise nationally. In 2021, the second-seeded O’Connor’s 3-2 win over No. 1 seed Sammy Sasso of Ohio State in the 149-pound NCAA final on March 20 secured UNC’s first NCAA wrestling gold medal since 1995 and the 20th all-time by an ACC wrestler. It marked the sixth NCAA title all-time by a Tar Heel wrestler. O’Connor, a redshirt junior from Lockport, Illinois, would be Woods’ most immediate training partner.

As far as the coaching staff is concerned, you can’t ask for a more credentialed trio of coaches than Coleman Scott, Tony Ramos, and Jamill Kelly. These three are flush with NCAA and Olympic hardware as competitors themselves. Plus, Jordan Oliver, quite the accomplished athlete himself, is currently training with the Tar Heel Wrestling Club. With Oliver presently making a push for the 2021 Olympic Games at 65 kg (roughly 143 pounds), that resource would be advantageous for Woods.

Academically, UNC is a top-tier institution very much in line with Stanford, Michigan, and others. As for UNC being in the ACC, I don’t think Woods is swayed by the glitz and glamour of Big Ten wrestling as he chose a Pac-12 school initially.

Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State is a program that has been gaining some traction in terms of adding Woods to its roster. The most logical explanation for why Woods would want to head to Stillwater is simple: Oklahoma State is a blue-chip program with a sustained history of excellence and success on the biggest stage. Much like Penn State (and Stanford for that matter), the resume of Cowboy Wrestling  speaks for itself. In total, OSU has 34 team titles, 143 individual champions, 53 conference crowns, nearly 500 All-Americans, and numerous Olympic gold medalists. Also, the Cowboys are coached by one of the best minds in the sport in John Smith.

Historical significance aside, the timing couldn’t be better for the Cowboys to snag Woods with Kaid Brock (141) graduating. While the presumptive starter at 141, Dusty Hone, is solid, Woods is an upgrade at the weight for sure. Woods will also have great training partners in Stillwater with Daton Fix, high school stud Victor Voinovich, and a pair of NCAA qualifiers in Kaden Gfeller and the aforementioned Hone.

Should Woods sign with the Orange and Black, the Cowboys could have three title-contenders in Fix, Woods, and reigning 197-pound champ AJ Ferrari. The Cowboys are instant favorites for a 2022 team podium finish in Detroit with Woods in the lineup.

Northwestern

Penn State, Michigan, North Carolina, and Oklahoma State have all been schools swirling around the transfer portal rumor mill since day one for Woods. Northwestern is not a school thought to be in contention for Woods’ services next season, but it should be. Here’s why:

According to US News’ 2021 national college and university rankings, Northwestern University is rated ninth nationally. The only other schools ranked higher that offer Division I wrestling are Ivy League institutions. However, Ivy League schools don’t accept student-athletes as graduate transfers, which Woods will be once he has earned his degree from Stanford in December. Again, the Wildcats wrestle in the premier wrestling conference, the Big Ten. That said, NU does have a pair of returning All-Americans at 133 with Chris Cannon (7th in 2021) and at 149 with Yahya Thomas (3rd in 2021). Both could be excellent training partners for Woods. Cannon and Thomas are solid freestylers as well. Plus, Colin Valdiviez, a 141-pound qualifier for Northwestern last season, is another worthy practice partner.

As a team, Northwestern was the talk of St. Louis in March as Matt Storniolo and Co. quietly put together a tenth-place finish, the best of Storniolo’s Northwestern tenure thus far.

In 2021, the ‘Cats had three starters grab All-American honors: Chris Cannon (133), Yahya Thomas (149), and Ryan Deakin (157). Additionally, Michael DeAugustino (125), Colin Valdiviez (141), and Lucas Davison (197) were all NCAA qualifiers who have shown promise and All-American-level potential at times during their respective careers. If you were to add Woods, plus Carter Young and Joel Vandervere, two highly nationally-rated Class of 2021 recruits to next year’s lineup, Northwestern could have quite the squad. It will require some slight reconfiguring and maneuvering, though.

With respect to location, Evanston, Illinois, would be a homecoming of sorts for the former Montini Catholic great, originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico. His high school alma mater is roughly an hour from the Northwestern campus.

Again, this option hasn’t been discussed much (or at all), but it absolutely should be. Northwestern conceivably checks many boxes, both on and off the mat.

Only time will tell what singlet Real Woods is wearing when he takes the mat for his new school next January, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it be one of these five. Either way, any school Woods picks is getting an instant All-American and potential NCAA champ.

Miller’s Pick: Michigan

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