When Reza Aleaziz decided to come back to the Southridge football team as the Skyhawks’ signal caller in the middle of Metro play last fall, A.J. Woodin was put in an awkward, unpredictable plight.

Abruptly, just when Woodin was playing good football in mid-October, Aleaziz and his howitzer of a right arm returned to the gridiron and reclaimed the starting gig. Make no mistake, it wasn’t like Woodin, a junior last year, was playing horrendously and Aleaziz was the golden knight riding in on his white horse to save the day. Aleaziz pulled away from the Skyhawks before daily doubles, initially not wanting to injure himself and put his scholarship to the University of Oregon baseball team in peril, so Woodin stepped into the pressure cooker and flourished. by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER  - Southridge senior quarterback A.J. Woodin went through a hail storm of controversy last season and says hes better because of it.

He started seven games, throwing 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions, 1,234 yards with a 69 percent completion percentage. In a week seven confrontation with Jesuit, Woodin came on in relief of Peyton King, who started against the Crusaders but broke his femur in the first quarter. Rather than sulk about being benched or pout about Aleaziz’s impending arrival, Woodin threw the game-winning 54-yard touchdown to Jordan Morgan in the fourth quarter to dethrone the powerful Crusaders.

Arguably Woodin did little wrong, at least nothing worth losing his starting position over no matter how talented Aleaziz was.

Yet, sensing Southridge needed a shake-up at the helm and mindful of Aleaziz’s natural ability to spin the pigskin, head coach Doug Dean made the permanent switch. In was Aleaziz, out was Woodin. On the heels of leading an epic comeback against the top-ranked team in the state and guiding the Skyhawks to a 4-3 record, Woodin was suddenly on the pine watching Aleaziz take Southridge to the 6A quarterfinals.

Woodin stood on the sidelines and cheered on his teammates as they went undefeated in Metro and won the league title outright.

Now, on the eve of his senior season, Woodin has already encountered his fair share of hard knocks on and off the field. The crazy part is, the Southridge signal caller swears he’s all the better for it, that only good can come from that tumultuous three-month duration and four years’ worth of enough ups and downs sandwiched into one season. Woodin believes Aleaziz, despite the midseason showing, was the finer choice at field general.

“At Southridge, nobody’s given a spot, it’s all about competing,” noted Woodin. “The better guy is going to play, and Reza was the better guy. I just have to keep working hard and keep growing. After he came back, I kind of followed his lead and learned from him.

“I used it as a learning experience,” continued Woodin. “Reza’s a great guy, he taught me a lot through all of high school. He was still around teaching me rope after rope, so I used it as a great experience and just kept working hard on what I needed to work on.”

Get in the game

When one talks to Woodin about last season, there isn’t an ounce of bitterness or unhappiness in his voice. He’s convinced last year’s trials and tribulations are going to lead to something big this season. Dean, who took over as head coach last year and had to deal with a hornet’s nest of scrutiny of his own, said there aren’t a lot of kids who would’ve weathered the storm like Woodin did.

“Obviously, he was disappointed, and I would be disappointed if he wasn’t,” said Dean. “You want a kid who wants to play and wants to be competitive and get in the game. I think he handled it very maturely, as well as anybody could expect a 16-, 17-year-old kid to handle that situation. I was really proud of him.”

Whatever adversity is thrown at Woodin this coming football season, whether it’s a two-touchdown deficit or a young quarterback nipping at his heels, the Southridge signal caller has shown he can respond with a level head.

“I think it’s going to help him tremendously,” said Dean. “He’s been through the fire now both in terms of handling game pressure and handling that situation off the field. I think it helped him grow up a lot as a person and a football player.”

Dean said Woodin is well ahead of where he was at this time last summer with regards to knowledge of the offense and sureness in the pocket. There’s a little bit of gunslinger in Woodin, which is central in a successful quarterback. He’s not fearful of losing or sitting in the pocket against an all-out blitz and delivering a ball on the numbers in the fourth quarter.

“A.J. knows the game better than anybody I know, works harder than anybody I know,” said Southridge wide receiver Jordan Morgan. “He’s a smart kid, and he has the leadership aspect. It’s going to come down to whoever wants to work harder.”

A leader

The Jesuit game demonstrated Woodin has the chops to hang with the best teams in the state, it gave him credence with his teammates who previously may have doubted his ability. Woodin’s confidence is palpable, and it tends to feed the rest of the team. He’s a leader who Dean says guys want to follow into battle.

“His confidence level has grown tremendously this year,” said Dean. “In all honesty, that’s the biggest change I’ve seen in him. His arm is stronger, but more importantly, he has an air of confidence about him.”

Woodin said the education he received playing in the hotly-contested Metro League along with Sheldon, Lake Oswego and Tualatin in the preseason was essential, looking forward to this season.

“It was great being able to get a couple games under my belt and get that experience needed for this year,” said Woodin. “We’re all about winning, that’s the main goal. Personal stats and stuff don’t really matter at all, as long we’re getting the job done. We want to win games and become closer as brothers.”

There are two schools of thought when it comes to a quarterback competition. One believes a signal caller tenses up when a short leash is wrapped around his neck and he believes one interception will put him back on the bench. The other outlook is that rivalry breeds prosperity, that having a back-up breathe down the starter’s neck will push the incumbent to new heights.

As Woodin has found out, Dean likes open competition and doesn’t prefer to hand starting jobs to anybody.

Complacency can set in early Dean thinks, and he likes to pit players against each other to see who has the competitive juice. So, while Woodin won the “Golden Gun” award at the Elite 11 regional camp in San Francisco, where 99 of the top quarterbacks on the West Coast competed, the Skyhawk starting position isn’t his yet.

Upcoming talentby: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER  - Southridge junior quarterback Peyton King is close to 100% after breaking his femur last year against Jesuit. King is competing with A.J. Woodin for the starting job.

King is a junior this year and has the look of a big-time quarterback with a left-handed classic, over-the-top throwing motion.

A 6-foot-5 200-pound junior, King is the archetypal, drop-back signal caller with the size to see over the defensive line and deliver the ball convincingly and to the right playmakers.

“He’s got a cannon for an arm,” said Morgan of King. “I don’t really compare the two, I just say, ‘Oh, there’s Peyton’ or ‘Oh, there’s A.J.’ and try to make plays for them.”

Dean had enough faith in King’s talent to start him as a sophomore versus the loaded Crusaders, who were the top-ranked team in 6A at the time, so the natural ability is there. Whether King gets to put that talent on display this season remains to be seen.

“He has a lot of potential and all the tools to be a big-time quarterback,” said Dean. “He just has to keep developing, growing and maturing.”

Originally, it was believed King had blown out his knee versus Jesuit, but the diagnosis ended up being a broken femur. He was in a cast for most of the winter, then came back for basketball and injured his knee. In mid-July during a seven-on-seven scrimmage with Lincoln, King had a heavy black brace wrapped around his right knee.

However, the southpaw was able to drop, plant and drive the limb while dispersing the pigskin without much hindrance.

“He’s had some physical setbacks, which has slowed his progress a little bit,” said Dean. “I think once he gets 100 percent healthy and grows into his body, he can be a really good player.”

It was the first time Southridge had formally congregated and practiced its offense so all assessments were made with a grain of salt.

Both quarterbacks toyed with Lincoln’s green secondary, dropping dimes to Morgan and Alex Beekman. Each came away impressed with the other’s skill set, too.

Woodin said he’s embracing the challenge that King brings to the table and looks forward to proving his worth this month as Southridge starts conditioning week and daily doubles.

“He’s a great competitor,” Woodin said of King. “That’s where we both excel, is we both love to compete. I like how we both compose ourselves, too. We both have a good grasp of the playbook.”

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