Rodney Woods gets second chance at Oregon

Updated: August 6, 2003, 5:42 PM ET

EUGENE, Ore. -- Rodney Woods is determined to make the most of his second chance.

Three years ago, the promising cornerback spent nearly a year in jail for felony assault, a charge that was later reduced to a misdemeanor so he could accept a football scholarship to Oregon.

Woods was involved in a fight at a high school party in Southern California where a teenager died in a separate assault, and his recruitment by Oregon spurred criticism.

"I'm going to respond to it by going out on the field, playing hard, and going to school and making good grades," he said. "And being a good model in society."

He formally became a student-athlete at Oregon on Tuesday, in time for the team's first fall practice Wednesday.

A junior out of Fresno City College, Woods jiggled his foot nervously as he fielded questions at Autzen Stadium, but he was full of hope.

"I've learned that you can get a second chance in life," he said. "You need to take advantage of your second chance."

Woods, 21, said he has taken to heart the judge's admonishment at his February hearing in Lancaster, Calif., to reduce the felony charge.

"Mr. Woods, I'm giving you the opportunity here that I can only hope you'll take advantage of," Judge Thomas White said. "You've seen today the impact that something like this can have, a moment's misjudgment, a lifetime of grief."

Christopher O'Leary, 18, died after a beating at the party in Palmdale, Calif., on May 20, 2000. Woods, then 17, was originally charged in O'Leary's death, but those charges were dismissed when witnesses said he was not involved.

Two of Woods' Littlerock High School teammates were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and each sentenced to four years. Woods was convicted of assaulting another partygoer, Kevin Walker.

O'Leary's family objected to Woods' petition to reduce the charge, saying they hold him partly responsible for their son's death. Kathleen Harris, the teenager's mother, brought her son's ashes to the February hearing, pleading, "Please do not reward him."

Oregon coach Mike Bellotti and defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti wrote letters to the court in support of Woods, whose scholarship was contingent on whether the felony could be reduced.

At the hearing, Woods agreed to waive his one-year jail sentence on the assault charge, meaning he could face that term again if he violates five years of probation. The judge also ordered him to attend anger management classes and counseling sessions.

Some were concerned about Woods' recruitment. University President Dave Frohnmayer said he should have been consulted earlier about Bellotti's intention to offer Woods a scholarship. But Frohnmayer ultimately stood by the coach.

Woods qualified academically by completing an English class over the summer.

Bellotti said he did not yet know whether Woods might start this season.

"I hope that he's competing for a starting position and making us better at cornerback. He actually played a safety position in junior college, so it's going to be hard to say," Bellotti said. "Until we get out there and practice, I really can't say."

Woods hopes to start in Oregon's opening game, Aug. 30 at Mississippi State. But he knows he'll be under intense scrutiny when he takes the field -- and when he's off it.

While he can't talk about what happened at the party because of pending civil litigation, Woods emphasized he was not involved in O'Leary's death but was remorseful. He says he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry for what happened."

This story is from's automated news wire. Wire index