I had an opportunity a few days ago to have a wonderful phone conversation with Paul Wood. In case you don’t know, Wood was an all-state caliber running back for the R.E. Lee Rebels in 1953, 1954, and 1955. He was named to the All-Region 1AA team in 1955 and participated in the GHSA/Atlanta Journal High School All-Star Game in 1956.
Wood received a football scholarship to the University of Alabama and played for the Tide in 1956, 1957, and 1958. He played for Coach J.B. Whitworth in ’56 and ’57 and then played on Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s first Alabama team in 1958. He was forced to give up football in 1959 when he injured his leg.
Wood scored the first touchdown at Matthews Field when he scored on a five-yard, second quarter run in the first game played on the field in 1953. The game was against arch-rival Griffin and the Rebels blew an 18-0 lead to lose 19-18 on the last play of the game.
One odd statistic about Wood is that he scored 12 of Lee’s 17 total touchdowns during the 1955 season. He scored the last eight touchdowns in Lee’s ‘55 season, which saw the Rebels finish with a 2-8 record. His younger brother Jimmy scored three of the other five Lee scores that year.
Foy Bentley and Wayne Collins were mentioned by Wood as he recalled his days on the gridiron for Lee. “Foy and Wayne were the hosses that I ran behind,” he said. “They made things a lot easier for me and could really open some holes.”
Wood, who just turned 78 years old, played for coach Jim Cavan at Lee and expressed a dear love for the Lee coach. “Everything I learned, I learned from Coach Cavan,” he said. “He was the most impressive football coach I have ever been around. I spent a lot of time at his house and I just dearly loved Coach Cavan and Mrs. Cavan. He was like a dad to me.”
Coach Otis Weaver was Wood’s coach during his freshman year in 1952. “Coach Weaver told me that I would never play football,” said Wood. “He said that my feet were too big. Coach Cavan didn’t worry about my feet.”
Wood said that he visited Cavan on the day that the legendary Lee coach passed away. “My brother and I visited Coach Cavan in the hospital on the day of his death,” Wood said. “I had not seen him in many years, but he recognized me. We prayed with him beside his bed.”
His decision to attend Alabama was directed by Bama grad and Lee Coach, Jim Franko. “Coach Franko set things up for me at Alabama,” Wood said. “Coach Cavan wanted me to go to Georgia and my ex-teammate, W.L. Strickland, wanted me to go to South Carolina where he was.”
One other Lee teacher that Wood mentioned was Mrs. Shehee. “We absolutely loved Mrs. Shehee,” he said. “Bill Curtis and I would put marbles in her car’s hubcaps. Also, when you could go around the square in two or three lanes without stopping, we would catch her in the inside lane and get beside her. We wouldn’t let her out of her lane to get off of the square. After we did this four or five times she went to the police.”
He remembered former Lee Coach Tommy Perdue as a teammate and friend while they were both at Lee. He said that Perdue was a “cut-up’ and a “clown” while they were in school together. Sorry Tommy!
Wood’s brother, Jimmy, who also received a scholarship to Alabama, died in 1991 from cancer. He told of how Jimmy loved to kick the football and that Coach Clint McAbee told him he needed to just go play the piano if all he wanted to do was kick the ball. McAbee gave him the nickname of “Liberace” and called him “Libby.”
After leaving Alabama, Wood worked for Frito-Lay, Del Monte, and R.J. Reynolds Foods. He was a buyer and plant manager for these national businesses. It was a joy to talk with Paul Wood. He was very interesting and full of stories and information. It’s always great to talk to R.E. Lee legends and Wood is certainly one.