New London - Coast Guard Academy captain Curt Barrett, who was in uniform Saturday but suffering from the flu, was the one to let freshman Kyle Wood know he was starting in Barrett's place at inside linebacker.
"I was definitely surprised," Wood said. "I thought Curt was joking with me.
"It felt good to be out there with everybody. I was definitely looking forward to it. But I definitely felt pressure to do good. Everything could come out bad and they blame it on me. I just filled in for Curt for the day."
Wood was quick to contribute in his first career start for the Bears (2-2 overall, 1-1 New England Football Conference Bogan Division), what would be a 59-0 victory over Fitchburg State. On third-and-14 with Fitchburg down to the Coast Guard 29-yard-line on its first series, Wood hit quarterback Christian Lopez for a 2-yard loss.
Wood finished with seven tackles, two sacks, and was named to the NEFC Defensive Honor Roll. Wood, who is 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, was voted to the Tennessee Sports Writers' Association Class 2A all-state team last season as a linebacker for the Friendship Christian School in Lebanon, Tenn.
He said he learned a lot during Swab Summer - although he lost 20 pounds during the span - when the coaches are allowed time with their freshman athletes.
Wood is one of 10 freshmen listed on the Bears' depth chart, five on defense. He shared the team-lead in tackles with another backup Saturday in sophomore Aaron Black, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound end who added a sack.
"He's a horse," senior defensive back Drew Russo said after the game of Black. "He was knocking kids twice his size out of the way."
The shutout came after Coast Guard allowed 695 yards the week before in a 42-38 loss to Massachusetts Maritime.
"Just little things," coach Bill George said of the difference in the defensive efforts. "You can't really say one game you turned the corner. They made some plays. The defensive lined stayed low. I was impressed what Kyle did. But the test will come over the next several weeks."
Moving up the list
George, in his 14th season as coach, won his 43rd game Saturday against Fitchburg, tying him with former coach and NFL Hall of Famer Otto Graham for third all-time at the academy. John Merriman (1930-45) leads the way with 48 wins and Nels Nitchman (1946-58) is second with 45.
George was reminded this week that the academy's Merriman Gym and Nitchman Field are named after the two guys ahead of him.
"I don't want a building, I just want to beat Bridgewater," George said of this week's opponent.
"When I was at Ohio State (as a graduate assistant), people used to play the lottery and everyone got to write down one wish they wanted if we won. People wrote down cars, a trip to Hawaii, things like that. Somebody filled mine out for me and wrote, 'Two cheeseburgers and fries from McDonald's.' That's all I need."
The Bears meet Bridgewater (4-1, 1-1) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in New London.