Don’t mistake the Montreal Alouettes for a team up a creek without a paddle.
Bear Woods, actually, wants his teammates “up to their chest in alligator-infested waters”. If the CFL East is an early-season swamp, the six-foot, 245-pound middle linebacker may be just the man to guide them.
As far as their Week 8 matchup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders is concerned, the Montreal Alouettes have a new starting quarterback. Alex Brink is expected to get the start under centre, while Troy Smith’s situation continues to play itself out.
Woods is technically in his fourth year with the Alouettes, but has been all too rarely involved in quarterback-hunting. He’s coming off a stay on the 6-game injured list to make his regular season debut against the Riders, launching a two-game Western swing for a club as desperate for team unity as a win.
While injuries to his left foot, left quad and left hamstring have been his cross to bear these last three years, Bear believes in doing more than his fair share. He’ll grin and bear added film study.
He’ll even bear the brunt of grunt work for a team bonding trip; already having recruited several teammates to go bear-hunting in the Okefenokee Swamp that oozes across the Georgia-Florida border.
“I’ve never killed a bear, but my brother and Uncle have dropped a 500-pounder.”
To borrow a phrase, the Alouette defence is finally “loaded for Bear.”
“He’s one of those hardnosed, relentless, never-give-up guys,” says GM Jim Popp. “
He’s just a truly good person. The Falcons couldn’t say enough nice things about him. When they let him go (Woods made Atlanta as an undrafted free agent in 2010, but was released Sept. 2011) it was a difficult decision.”
“He might be the most productive guy I’ve seen the past five years who constantly jumped out at NFL training camp and pre-season. He just stood out, made tackles, made plays, yet he’s not on a team. You stick with a guy like that because he may be outstanding.”
Not coincidentally, Popp recalls Aaron Lavarias (former Patriots’ property) jumping out at him like Woods. Lavarias was rushed from rush-end to MLB these past six weeks when Woods was felled by injury at 2013 camp.
Bear believes in living up to his name. His Grandaddy dubbed him “Bear” for his rough and tumble ways since he was a toddler. Even his hometown of Macclenny, Florida is snakebit. The town was almost wiped out in 1888 by yellow fever. The folks of Baker County are survivors.
The Bear facts: Woods legally changed his name in the off-season from Jonathon Mark. His mother questioned the wisdom of the switch, but his simple response hit like a blitz up the A-gap: “If you wanted to call me Jonathon, why did you call me Bear all my life?”
Bear had been rushed into duty November 2011 making his first CFL start in the Eastern Semi-Final. Two other LBs were dinged up, so without taking a day of starting reps in practice that week, he led all Als defenders in tackles in what turned out to be a losing cause.
2012 was a total write off because of a broken foot. Two screws in his foot had to be replaced. Last year he was limited to 18 total tackles because of a torn quad.
“I’m well prepared to deal with this kind of situation,” he said.
“I’m just glad to be around,” says the 27-year old who was projected to be the starter when Shea Emry defected to the Argos via free agency.
“What did I learn from all that time off? Be ready when that time is called. And be thankful you’re still here, because when you’re hurt, as a player you don’t have any leverage.”
He also became an avid reader, intensifying Bible study and Ayn Rand, the political novelist whose “objectivism” still resonates for unfettered capitalism, limiting government interference, and personal responsibility.
Those themes are easy to bear in mind because of Bear’s father Mark Woods.
“I’m a Born-again Christian,” Bear explains. “Dad’s a pastor. He lays fiber for the internet. He works on contract in North Carolina then drives back to Florida to preach every weekend. Dad’s putting in 150 hours and preaching.”
Taylor Church in Taylor, Florida is admittedly off the beaten track, “the backwoods” even compared to Macclenny, (population 6,391). But it offered another salvation for a football playing swamp-lover.
Surfing at the beach about 40 miles away. Bear surfed and grew out his dreads. Looks can be deceiving, Bear is a sheep in surfer’s dreadlocks.
“Montrealers are always asking me if I can ‘hook them up’, but I don’t drink and haven’t smoked a day in my life,” Bear confesses.
Maybe all that healthy living has helped him bounce back from so many injuries.
At Troy University in Alabama it took three years for the walk-on to win a starting job. He tried out at QB, having also played linebacker and safety in high school.
One college coach called him a “spiritual leader” as he racked as many as 22 tackles in a game and more than 240 tackles in ‘08-09.
After his first college start vs. Middle Tennessee, Bear was quoted as saying “I knew once I got on the field I wasn’t going to leave it.”
Not willingly, anyway.
“Bear can be a dominant special teams player, potentially a really good middle linebacker,” Popp bears witness. “The poor guy has to be frustrated (with all the injuries). He’s been snakebit…maybe it’s over with now.”