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Never ending pursuit

The fourth and final installment of a Senior Bowl week diary with Cincinnati's Eric Wood, a center for the South out of Louisville.

There is a decent chance that less than 48 hours after walking out of Saturday night's Senior Bowl that he is going to be halfway across the country working in the gym again.

That's the way it is nowadays. Eric Wood grew up on the West Side of Cincinnati, played his college ball at Louisville, and yet the road to the NFL brings him to Orange County, Calif.

"I'll be there up through the combine and then we'll see what happens," says Wood from an airport, barely any time to savor a Senior Bowl outing that featured his debut at guard.

The NFL scouting combine is next on a prospect's agenda for late February in Indianapolis and like many of the top ones Wood is not working out in his hometown but in the city and gym of his agent. When he goes to a postgame dinner across the street from his Mobile, Ala., hotel Saturday night, he is accompanied not only by his parents and girlfriend, but also reps from agent David Dunn's Athletes First.

Louisville's Eric Wood (Getty Images)
It is the modern pro athlete's family snapshot. As one of the nation's top centers, they are about the only certainties he has heading into the NFL Draft. Although, he's fairly confident he showed well in the South's 35-18 victory.

Boston College defensive tackle BJ. Raji, whose stock soared last week, found out when the 304-pound Wood used his signature strength after snapping the ball to muscle the 335-pound Raji out of the way on a one-yard touchdown run. Strength at the point of attack is his strength.

"Top center in the country. What do you expect?" asks Raji, who also has Dunn and works out with Wood.

But what has Wood pleased is that he took the majority of Saturday's snaps at right guard. That's not exactly a footnote. Until last Monday, the former Elder High School tackle and tight end had never taken a snap at guard in any game at any time.

"Really, it's the best I've felt in a game in a long time," he says. "I think a lot of it had to do with just being so anxious to go against the best there is. The (Jacksonville coaches) prepared me well and after the first day or so of practice, I felt pretty comfortable at either spot."

It is hard to take the tape of an all-star game seriously. Just look at the last five MVPs from the Senior Bowl going back to Charlie Frye in 2005. Sinorice Moss, Tony Hunt, Matt Forte and this year's Pat White. Forte became a factor immediately, but despite White's heroics no one thinks he's walking into a No. 1 job in the NFL.

But the game in the trenches is as close as real as it gets and Wood feels like he's headed in the right direction. The South runs the ball for a 4.1-yard average against a North defensive line that had received rave practice week reviews.

But he has to admit after playing in two Ohio schoolboy championship games and a bowl game, this one had a funny feel.

"I'm not used to rotating or sitting on the bench, so it was kind of weird going back in and then changing positions, too," he says. "We didn't adjust very much. We kind of stayed with what we did in practice."

But the best part of the week turns out to be just like anything else on any level of football.

"The best memory has to be late in the game," he says. "We're winning and running the ball and just having fun with all the other guys on the line. That was fun."

Wood rotates with Antoine Caldwell of Alabama and Jonathan Luigs of Arkansas. Along with the North's Alex Mack and Max Unger, they are his main competition on Draft Day. But that doesn't stop him from loading their phone numbers into his cell phone.

"I had a good time meeting those guys. We spent a lot of time together during the week," Wood says. "That other stuff doesn't bother me."

Not much does. He's got a goal and it's why he was in bed every night trying to get eight hours of sleep before the morning meetings instead of seeing what was happening on Dauphin Street. It's why he watched film the night before the game. It's why he made every interview with an NFL team that asked even though he already knew the questions and the answers.

"It's like when the Bengals asked me if I thought playing at home would be a distraction," Wood says. "Would people be trying to get me to go out all time and would I go? I didn't come this far to let that get that in the way of what I want to accomplish."

Which is why he is even thinking about going into the gym Monday after his last college game.

"I saved the jersey," he says of the South's No. 60. "I think it will be a nice memento somewhere down the road."

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