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Center of attention

(The first installment of a Senior Bowl week diary with Cincinnati's Eric Wood, a center for the South out of Louisville.)

MOBILE, Ala. - First he was meeting with the Bears, the team that has Pro Bowler Olin Kreutz, a guy with whom he's already been compared in style.

Then another personnel type grabbed him to set up an appointment for Tuesday night, but not before getting a mini head start and every phone number he's had since third grade.

Then he was gone back down the escalator looking for the Panthers' cave in the hotel's byzantine series of conference rooms for another interview.

Maybe you couldn't slow him down for an interview because of all the interviews, but earlier in the day you could interview the NFL Network's Mike Mayock about Louisville center Eric Wood, a West Side guy from Cincinnati playing for the South against a North team with a familiar rival.

! **Louisville's Eric Wood** (Getty Images)

"Love him," Mayock is saying about Wood. "He can not only be a starting NFL center, but I think he can play four spots on the line. He's a finisher. He plays hard. What I like about him is once he gets into you, it's all over."

This day, Monday, isn't all over for Wood until 11 p.m. even though he was eating breakfast at 7:15 and went through his first practice in two months. He's on the phone now, but it sounds like he's still flipping through his loose-leaf notebook where he has been busily scribbling in appointments with NFL teams and reminders. Look quickly and you might see Wood hunched in a chair or over a table before closing the book and racing to the next stop.

Wood is a big bushy blond with an even bigger smile and an even bigger work ethic. He may be a big-time prospect complete with big-time agent (Carson Palmer's David Dunn), but this is still the guy that helped lead Elder to back-to-back state titles.

He's not going to big time you. He's going to repeat what South head coach Jack Del Rio said Monday morning when he gathered his team and his Jacksonville staff.

"He said as long as you go out on the field and compete every day in every drill, you've got a shot in the NFL," he says. "It's something I've always done no matter where I've been."

Dunn and his Orange County, California-based Athletes First agency has supplied the notebook complete with pictures and bios of NFL personnel men, head coaches and assistants. He doesn't need it Monday when he meets North head coach Marvin Lewis, the coach of his hometown Bengals.

"I've got a 'In Marvin We Trust' T-shirt," Wood says. "I told him it was nice to meet him and he told me he'll meet with me later in the week."

If it doesnt sound too big for Wood, it isn't.

First of all, what's bigger than a state playoff game in Elder's Pit?

And second of all, Wood knows the score when it comes to the scouts.

He's been around the NFL. He's already been at a Marvin Lewis training camp at Georgetown College in Kentucky a few times (the father of Wood's college coach coached Lewis in college) and he's snapped the ball to guys like ex-Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, a current NFL player who hooked up Wood with Dunn.

(Wood is prepping for next month's NFL scouting combine at a gym near Dunn's office in California and he happened to catch Bengals backup quarterback Jordan Palmer in the office last week and they chatted.)

He's also been working out against another top prospect in Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji, a guy he'll play against Saturday.

"You know the teams want to know about your character," Wood says. "You also know they've done their research. They've watched you play. They've talked to your coaches."

So Wood is pretty much an easy read for the scouts. An open book with all the intangibles. Make that an open loose-leaf notebook.

What Wood wants to show them is his versatility on the field. The former Elder tackle took one rep at left guard Monday and it was in pass protection against Georgia's Corvey Irvin.

"I won it," he says. "That's the toughest block, really, because it's really exaggerated. It's not really what happens, so I felt good about that.

"It was my first practice in eight weeks. The technique comes back, but the rustiness was there. There's no better way to get back in it with live bullets against the best there is."

Tuesday wakeup call?

6:45 a.m. even though practice isn't until the afternoon.

The Bears, after all, may be looking.

"I know they've already got Kreutz," he says. "I know he's getting older, but it would be a thrill to learn from a guy like that."  

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