October 2015
Co-op Matters

Farming and Football

 
Tim Wood, general manager of the Central Alabama Farmers Co-op, enjoys wearing his Auburn University varsity jacket. On a wall next to him is a framed image of a War Eagle.  

Autumn is here and that means two of Tim Wood’s favorite activities – farming and football.

Wood, general manager of Central Alabama Farmers Cooperative, learned the basics of agriculture on his family’s farm long before he became a linebacker for Auburn University.

Farming can be exhausting, especially at harvest time, but not nearly as painful as broken bones and concussions often associated with gridiron collisions when two Southeastern Conference teams go at it.

Those days are far behind him now. His family’s farm is but a distant memory and he no longer has to deal with the likes of Herschel Walker and other bruising runners smashing into him on Saturday afternoons.

He doesn’t miss those days because he’s too busy as director of one of Alabama’s largest farming cooperatives that includes locations in Selma, Demopolis and Faunsdale.

At times, though, he still thinks back to games on the Plains when millions of football fans around the country watched him and his Tiger teammates play on national television.

Major college football didn’t seem possible when he played at Morgan Academy, a small private school in Selma, but he was good enough to attract attention from Iowa State and he was flown to the Midwest, courtesy of the Hawkeyes.

 
  Auburn’s Tim Wood, no. 34, focuses on an Alabama runner during an Iron Bowl game.

The long distance from Iowa to Alabama was one negative, but that wasn’t the only problem. Soon after his March arrival in Ames, it began to snow – scratch Iowa State.

Good fortune began to smile on him when he got back home and learned that a potential prospect from Tennessee backed out, leading Auburn to offer him its last football scholarship.

Not taking a potential scholarship offer in Iowa proved to be one of the best decisions he ever made and he still thinks about that distance and the snow.

"If it wasn’t a miracle, it was darn close to it," said Wood, 56. "There are moments in life that define you and that sure was one of them."

When he got back home from baseball practice at Morgan Academy, his big smile said it all.

"My dad and my brother Mike were on a tractor getting ready to plant cotton. When I told ‘em about the scholarship, they were pretty happy. Mike started dancing."

George Wood is a man of few words and knows how to control his emotions. His reaction to the good news was summed up in three words, "Ain’t that good." It was more of a statement than a question.

 
Tim Wood and his large family took in the Auburn-Alabama game last year.  

During his first major scrimmage, Wood was a defensive back when future NFL receiver Byron Franklin caught a pass over the middle and headed right at him.

"I saw the play developing and I hit him square in the face with my helmet," said Wood, who remembers one of his coaches exclaim, "Boy, you can play for me."

Wood had to delay his playing days for the Tigers because, during conditioning drills, another player rolled up on his left ankle, tearing ligaments that sent him to a hospital for surgery.

His recuperative powers were always strong and he was able to play during his sophomore year, picking up a football letter in the process. The Tiger team that year included three superstars – William Andrews, James Brooks and Joe Cribbs.

By the time he was in his junior year, Wood was moved to linebacker and was involved in one of the most embarrassing plays of his collegiate career. Tennessee was the opponent that day.

 
  Tim Wood, Central Alabama Farmers Cooperative General Manager, chats with Faye Shumate, an employee of more than four decades, outside the Selma facility.

"Their quarterback throws a down-and-out pass and I’m in perfect position to intercept and maybe score when the ball goes through my hands and hits me in the face mask."

A record crowd of 57,000 witnessed what appeared to be an interception in the making and began to yell as the ball sailed toward Wood’s waiting arms. Anticipatory cheers soon changed to groans in the stands.

"If there had been a hole in the field, I’d have jumped into it," said Wood, who also noted that Tennessee won the game in a 42–0 rout.

Mike tried to ease Tim’s mortification by telling him, "If you had made the interception, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because you’d just have lost 42–7."

More injuries followed including a broken left hand, requiring additional surgery. Pins were placed in the hand and a soft cast helped him see more action.

 
The WoodLands Camp 37th Annual A-Club Deer Hunt was hosted by Tim Wood. WoodLands Camp members are (from left) Tim Davis, Allen Finlayson, Tim Wood, Chet Norris, Mike Shirey, Bob Harris, Bishop Reeves, David Ammons, Dennis Rogers and Bob Jordan.  
   

Wood came face-to-face with Herschel Walker in 1980 when the heralded Georgia freshman turned bulldozer in front of Wood as he prepared to tackle him.

"The hole opened up and I hit him dead center of the chest at the line of scrimmage," said Wood, who soon learned what it was like to be hit by a two-legged freight train. "I said to myself, ‘My God, what was that!’"

Wood felt like he had just run into a 100-year-old oak tree or hit a piece of steel.

"This freshman just ran over me," he said. "It was like I never even hit him."

It was to be the first of two collisions with Walker and, again, he came out on the losing end.

 
  Tim Wood receives his 25-year certificate from then-AFC President Tommy Paulk at the organization’s annual meeting five years ago.

"That time I hit him in the backfield and his knee hit me in the middle of my helmet," Wood said. "It was like he just hit me with a baseball bat. Everything went white and I dropped like a dish rag."

Wood staggered to the sidelines and sat on the bench after the collision. In an understandable daze, he didn’t know where he was, how he got into the stadium or where he lived.

His senses returned by the time the second half began and he played with an obvious concussion, even tackling Walker at one point as Auburn held him under 100 yards rushing.

At 6 foot and 215 pounds, Wood was far from one of the biggest linebackers in the SEC, but he lettered in three seasons with Auburn and his grit in the face of painful injuries made him a fan favorite. He kept coming back for more, refusing to leave the team.

"You push yourself through adversity and that includes two- and three-a-day practices in temperatures over 100 degrees," he said. "What I didn’t like was hearing a teammate moan and groan and say we were about to lose a game. I didn’t want to play with him again."

There are limits to everything, however, and Wood didn’t need to be reminded that agonizing injuries followed by treatment and recovery through rehabilitation can test anybody’s resolve.

"When I was faced with more surgery and rehab after that, it was just too much," he said. "I knew it was time to move on with the rest of my life, but I’ve never regretted for a moment my years playing for Auburn."

Wood has a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Sciences at Auburn and, for the past 30 years, has been deeply involved in directing the Co-op in Selma.

In 1993, he received the E.P. Garrett Award presented to the best Co-op manager in Alabama. In 2004, he was named Dallas County Cattleman of the Year.

His support of agriculture in Alabama is well known and Richard Guthrie, retired dean of the College of Agriculture, sings his praises, calling him "a great manager" within the Quality Co-op family.

"Tim’s business is booming and, most of all, he’s been a good friend and an outstanding supporter of our ag alumni program at Auburn," Guthrie stated.

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell says Wood’s business success has been based on "relationships he’s built with farmers and members of the community."

"Tim is a respected leader who is able to bring people together to get things done," said Parnell, adding he appreciates his friendship as well as his dedication "to his family and our farmers."

Wood and the former Susan Jones of Selma have two daughters and are involved in numerous community organizations including one that provides meals for underprivileged children.

The winner of numerous awards for athletic and management prowess, Tim is happy to have received one of his proudest accomplishments – Auburn’s decision to finally acknowledge his "hometown."

He grew up in the tiny unincorporated community of Polk, located 13 miles from Selma and named for President James K. Polk.

"I love living in Selma, but kept trying to have Polk listed as my hometown in the football brochure during my first years at Auburn," he said. "They finally did it for me when I began my final season."

Wood may not have gained All-America recognition or a draft to play professional football, but he has one distinction that may never be topped.

He’s the first and probably the last Polk resident to play for a major college football team.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.