COLUMBIA — Rolandis Woodland was in the right place at just the right time.
With a perfectly timed leap and a good reach, the sophomore wide receiver more than tripled his yardage for this season. In the third quarter of the game against Kansas State, Woodland caught a 51-yard pass from Blaine Gabbert, setting up T.J. Moe’s touchdown. The reception was the longest of Woodland’s career and marked his first sizable contribution to the team all season.
“Rolandis, that was a really big play,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “He really needed that. He’s a great kid.”
Woodland did need that reception, not just to boost his statistics, which have been far less than projected, but also to bolster his lagging confidence. After starting spring camp as No. 1 on the depth chart at the X-receiver position, Woodland has been nearly invisible on the field for the Tigers.
After dropping a key pass in the red zone at Nebraska, Woodland felt like nothing he did was working. Both Pinkel and Gabbert said that Woodland has the skills necessary, but this season has been a series of tough breaks and subpar performances.
Lately, though, Woodland’s performance at practices has improved, Pinkel said, and that has started to translate to the field. Whether this one catch marks the end of Woodland’s slump remains to be seen, but Pinkel said the receiver seems to be moving in the right direction toward seeing more playing time.
“It’s always a work in progress, like it is for everybody, but it’s something he’ll have to prove,” Pinkel said. “The bottom line is you get opportunities if you’re playing well in practice, and he’s been practicing better.”
Woodland was less concerned about the implications of the catch, but he knows it can only help how the coaches view him.
“It’s definitely boosted my stock,” Woodland said. “When you get that one, you’re hungry for more. My mindset is just to stay focused and stay hungry, and I’m going to get some more.”
Woodland said that though he’s anxious for more catches, nothing can match how not ready he was for this one big play. He and Gabbert spend a lot of time practicing such long passes, but it had yet to click on the field.
“It felt really good,” Woodland said. “It’s been a long time coming for a long ball, and we finally completed one.”
Gabbert said he and Woodland have had better and better chemistry on the field as the season has progressed, and he’s grateful that his teammate had an opportunity to show his improvement on the field. Gabbert said he knows the play has boosted Woodland’s confidence.
In the end, though, it was just one catch, and Woodland knows that in order to be successful he will have to repeat his performance many times. He hasn’t had more than one catch per game all season, and he said that he knows he needs to work to be a more consistent presence on the offense.
“For Iowa State, I’m just going in with a clean slate,” Woodland said. “You know, if this play happened again at Iowa State, that would be good.”
Woodland’s alarmingly wide smile makes its clear how much the reception meant to him. It's easy to imagine how good it felt to make the play and realize that he wasn’t going to drop the ball. Now, just as he clutched the football on Saturday, Woodland is holding onto a new-found confidence and optimism.