Travis Wood has always looked up to his brother, Tanner.
Like any brothers, they’ve had their skirmishes. It hasn’t always been hunky-dory. But even though Travis is two years younger, and even though Tanner was always the best athlete around, Travis was never threatened.
“Their relationship has always been the best,’’ said Michelle Wood, their mother. “Never anything like one is better than the other. Never.”
Tanner rushed for 2,700 yards last season at Conway Springs. Yes, 2,700. Then he went off to play football at Kansas State, where he is a redshirt this season.
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And guess who stepped in as the featured back in the Cardinals’ single-wing offense? None other than little brother Travis, a junior who switched over from tight end.
Tanner had to carry the load in 2012, Conway Springs coach Matt Biehler said. Travis has more help, which might explain why his rushing yardage is lower. But 1,385 yards and a 7.2 yards-per-carry average isn’t anything to apologize for.
Tanner is a specimen at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds. He was kind of born that way.
“He’s a freak athlete,’’ Travis said of his brother. “It doesn’t happen very often.’’
Travis is tall like his brother, 6-3. But he weighs 50 pounds less, although he is working hard in the weight room to rectify that.
Travis doesn’t have the speed of his older brother, either. He’s working on that, too. Remember, he’s only a junior.
“Travis has a great ability for making cutbacks when he runs the football,’’ said Conway Springs coach Matt Biehler, whose Cardinals will take on defending Class 3A champion Scott City in the state quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Saturday at Conway. “He makes people miss. Tanner could be elusive, too, but he had the size to run people over. I think Travis has really developed that ability to make people miss.”
Travis is also the best player on a better Conway Springs team than the one Tanner led last season.
The Cardinals lost to Garden Plain in the first round of the playoffs in 2012 but are 11-0 this season. The seven-time state champs have a chance to make it eight.
“We only graduated nine seniors from last year so we knew we had a lot of experience coming back,’’ Biehler said. “And we have our offensive line back. The big question mark was in the skill positions, in the running back position.”
That’s why Travis Wood, also one of the team’s defensive leaders at linebacker, was switched to running back. He has teamed with quarterback Dakota Finstad to do what the single wing does — keep opposing teams utterly mystified as to which Conway Springs player has the football from play to play.
Finstad has gained 1,057 yards on 93 carries, an 11.4 yards-per-carry average. He has also passed for 390 yards.
That’s right. Conway Springs has passed for 390 yards. Some single-wing proponents would say such a high passing total is blasphemous, but Biehler loves the versatility of being able to mix in a pass here and there. He credits offensive coordinator Brent Martens with devising an offense that creates even more head-scratching situations for a defense than a traditional single-wing.
Travis Wood, of course, is having a blast running the football and watching the eyes of defensive players almost literally swirl.
“I really like having my hands on the football more,’’ Wood said. “There’s always a lot of stuff going on when we’re on offense and our coaches are always coming up with new plays.”
Travis wants to play college football, just like his brother. He wants to play at Kansas State, just like his brother.
He obviously hasn’t been scared off by the comparisons people ultimately make. They’re two years apart in age and two of the most successful athletes to come through athlete-rich Conway Springs.
Tanner Wood is playing defensive end at K-State and will probably pack close to 250 pounds by the time he gets on the playing field next season. By all accounts, he’s going to be a big-time contributor.
Travis is never going to push 250. He would like to be a safety or maybe even a slot receiver in college.
“Right now I run a 4.9 40 and I would like to get that down to a 4.7,’’ Travis said. “And I would like to get closer to 200 pounds by next year. I want to get bigger and faster.”
Rather than feel threatened by the success of his older brother, Travis is inspired by it.
“He started me in the weight room when I was really young and I took right to that,’’ Travis said. “We’re a little competitive with one another, but we’re also really close because we’re the only siblings in our family. We did everything together — hunt, fish, play catch in the yard. He taught me a lot of things.’’
Tanner was instrumental in Conway Springs’ 2011 state championship. He has a title. Travis would like one, too. Not because big brother has one, but because he doesn’t.