There is a common thread linking the likes of current high-school football standouts such as Ocoee High’s Dorian Jones or the Green brothers — James and Josh — at Olympia High.
It links those players, and a number of other athletes currently starring at the high school level around Central Florida, with someone such as Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix — a Dr. Phillips alumnus starring in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers — or Brandon Brown-Dukes, who just signed a contract to become part of the 90-man roster for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It is a thread that has even come full circle in a way, as someone such as James Washington — a former star for Boone High and North Carolina State — has returned to the area as a teacher and the junior varsity head coach at Dr. Phillips High.
The thread is a person — Lo Wood — and his “Burn Baby Burn” brand.
Along with the many camps he puts on each summer through his business, Excel Speed Training, in partnership with high-school programs around the area, Wood has become a fixture of the high-school athletics local community.
The thing to know about the camps put on by Wood, who lives in West Orange County near the borders of Ocoee and Gotha, is that they are not intended to make money — or, often, even cover costs. Camps over the past two months at Dr. Phillips, Ocoee, Wekiva, Lake Mary and other locations have ranged from $10 to $5 to free — and they all come with a T-shirt.
Of course, the reason for the camps isn’t to make money.
The reason is the passion — the same passion that has allowed Wood and those who help him train local athletes to build a local brand that transcends Central Florida and brings together rivals on the field to get better off of it.
“His first priority is the kids — trying to get kids better,” Washington said. “Trying to find the best guys around to push each other — competition makes people better.”
The way college recruiting has evolved for football and other sports involves a much greater emphasis than ever before on how athletes perform outside actual games — in camps and 7-on-7 tournaments during the summer. Beyond natural ability, it helps an individual athlete to know how these camps operate, how to excel while in attendance and what scouts will be seeking.
So, the camps that Wood will put together, with volunteers ranging from past players to high-school coaches from around the region, are designed to prepare local youth to shine at future camps.
“Through that camp, it will help them excel at the big camps so they can get recognized,” Wood said. “Our goal is to try and help kids get scholarships. The NFL is a dream — a college degree is reality.”
Wood and Excel Speed Training will host yet another camp July 30 at CFCA in Ocoee. This one also will include a coaches clinic to train youth football coaches at their craft.
Coaching has long been a passion of Wood dating back to his days as a standout hurdler at Apopka High. When there was a slow transition between coaches one season, Wood stepped up — while still a student — and helped fill the void in the meantime.
“I kind of became the track coach in high school,” Wood said. “Since then, I’ve known that coaching and training was my calling.”
The philosophy that drives Wood is one that has helped build his reputation to where varsity coaches such as Ocoee’s Ben Bullock, Dr. Phillips’ Rodney Wells and others regularly partner with him and one that he credits to a living legend of sorts in the Central Florida football scene — Apopka head coach Rick Darlington.
“I actually heard this from Rick Darlington, that our job is to create young men, great fathers, great husbands — and good football players,” Wood said.
And so, although the “Lo Wood Hall of Fame” — a poster board collage of photos of all the young men trained by Wood or Excel who have gone on to play college football — contains players such as Clinton-Dix, Wood said he is most proud of the 39 program alumni since 2008 who have earned college degrees.
Those ranks include Wood’s oldest son, Lo Wood Jr., who starred at Notre Dame and Miami. When injuries got in the way of playing football professionally, Lo Wood Jr. was able to fall back on an undergraduate degree from Notre Dame and a graduate degree from Miami and now has a successful career in the entertainment industry on the West Coast.
“Student-athletes getting their degree works,” Wood says with a smile.
Wood does charge for his training services at Excel, but with the idea of covering costs and compensating his other trainers who help round out the process (Wood focuses on speed and agility, while others well help athletes with strength and other areas of improvement). Options are available for parents and players in need of financial assistance.
Wood has a “day job” at Westgate Resorts and also owns a barbershop — Lo’s Master Cuts — in Orlando. Even the barbershop underscores Wood’s intentions, designed as a place where some of the players he mentors can hang out and stay out of trouble.
It’s that genuine concern for players that Brown-Dukes reflected on as he prepares for NFL Training Camp with the Steelers — a genuine concern he recalls from the first time he met Wood, nearly 15 years ago.
“I knew he cared about me,” Brown-Dukes said of that day. “You can have a conversation about how he goes about getting you to the places you need to be and helping you further than what you actually need.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].