By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Eric Wood never thought he would end up in Buffalo. Nine years later he never wants to leave.
Wood, the Buffalo Bills’ first-round Draft pick in 2009, will begin his ninth year with the team this fall. He reflected on what it was like, and what he expected coming out of Louisville and heading to the NFL that draft night in 2009.
“I had been told I’d go either in the first, maybe the second, round,’’ Wood, the Bills’ starting center for the past seven years after two years at right guard, said. “I caught wind the Steelers liked me at (No.) 32 and were going to take me there. So, I kept that in the back of my mind as the Draft started to unfold.’’
Wood didn’t have to wait until that final pick of the first round. Four picks earlier, the Bills, with a pick they acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles as part of a trade for left tackle Jason Peters, selected him No. 28 overall.
He was sitting there in his mother’s house in Cincinnati with his then-girlfriend, now wife, Leslie, and a small group of friends, when the call came.
“That’s a surreal moment,’’ Wood said of hearing his name called and getting the call from the NFL. “It’s a lot of hard work paying off and just an awesome opportunity.’’
It just came from an unlikely source. While the Steelers showed a lot of interest; the Bills weren’t even one of the teams on Wood’ radar.
“I interviewed with them at Combine, like a lot of teams, but there was no pre-Draft visit, no workouts, so it did catch me off guard. Of the teams that I thought needed a center, they weren’t one of the ones I thought did. They just signed Geoff Hangartner as a free agent center, so yeah, it was a little bit of a surprise.’’
There were three, highlyregarded centers in that 2009 Draft. Along with Wood, there were Alex Mack, of Cal, and Max Unger, of Oregon. The Cleveland Browns took Mack with the 21st overall pick. Unger went in the second round to the Seattle Seahawks.
“It was a strong year at center,’’ Wood said. “I was a little worried that teams that liked me, Alex and Max would wait and see if we all slipped. I wanted to be the first one, but when Alex went I was excited for him, but also felt I would be going soon after.’’
He did with the Bills’ second first-round pick, the one they acquired for Peters.
If there wasn’t enough pressure in being a first-round pick, Wood also had to be the player the Bills got for their Pro Bowl left tackle.
“A little bit,’’ he said of the added pressure. “You think about it from time to time and especially when it happened. But it’s nothing I thought about on a daily basis. They obviously thought high enough of me to take me in the first round. And I give them everything I got on a daily basis.’’
For nine years, he’s done just that. And while Mack has moved from the Browns to the Atlanta Falcons and Unger from the Seahawks to the New Orleans Saints, Wood remains a Bill. Newly hired Sean McDermott will be his fifth different head coach, following Dick Jauron, Chan Gailey, Doug Marrone, and Rex Ryan.
“I love it up here,’’ Wood said. “I’ve been very fortunate to spend going on nine years with the Bills. It’s crazy, but I’m the second longest tenured Bill right now. The organization has always treated me phenomenally. And the city embraces you as well. The people here are great. Hopefully, I’ll finish my career here.’’