It wasn’t until high school that football became a serious consideration for the Belle Glades, Fla. native. All of Wooten’s friends played, and he didn’t want to be left out.
That fall, he tried out for the team, but he was clearly behind on the learning curve. He struggled through the season, relegated to the freshman team, and made a decision that the next year would be different.
Wooten spent that summer working on his route running, watching college and NFL stars that he admired and mimicking their moves. The extra effort paid off, and by his sophomore season at Glades Central High School, he was a star.
“I think what helped me get ahead of people was my speed, and then I’ve just kept on working on my hands and my route running, and it all came together,” Wooten said.
The journey hasn’t been much different during his first few months at Georgia.
Wooten arrived in June as an undersized wideout in the shadow of highly recruited Marlon Brown.
The preseason practices were a whirlwind, a vivid reminder of those early days in high school for Wooten. Despite his small stature and lack of experience, however, Wooten worked hard. He watched other players and learned from what they did. And that speed – he still had the speed.
“He’s real fast,” Brown said of his fellow freshman receiver. “You all can watch TV and say he’s fast, but that’s nothing like what we see in practice.”
When the preseason ended and the games began, Wooten hoped to be a key contributor for the Bulldogs, particularly given the team’s dearth of wide receivers. Instead, he was mostly relegated to the sidelines, waiting his turn while Georgia’s top three receivers saw nearly every snap on game day.
Rather than get frustrated, however, Wooten kept working. Practice, he knew, was where the battles for playing time were won and lost, and his goal was to impress his coaches so much Sunday through Friday that they had no choice but to see what he could accomplish on Saturdays.
“In the first couple weeks, I wasn’t discouraged that I wasn’t playing,” Wooten said. “I knew I needed to work on things that would get me on the field. As each week went by, I tried to compete in practice and give the coaches confidence that I was ready to play.”
Wooten earned his share of recruiting hype, but it was Brown that appeared to be the centerpiece to Georgia’s class of 2009.
But while Brown earned the majority of the spotlight for his gaudy high school statistics and his long and lean frame, Wooten’s skill set may have been a better fit for what Georgia’s offense lacked this season.
“You look at the type of guys we have, Wooten was a guy that we needed,” quarterback Joe Cox said. “Wooten is a different kind of receiver and we felt that if we were able to get him in the game there was some different things we could do with him.”
That’s exactly what happened last week against Arizona State.
After Wooten got his feet wet with a few snaps a week earlier – including a carry on an end-around that went for no gain – he found himself an integral part of the offense in Georgia’s win over the Sun Devils.
Part of it was necessity. A.J. Green, Michael Moore and Tavarres King had been on the field nearly every play this season. Even with Wooten in the game, Green still saw 60 snaps last week, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.
But much of the increased role was a matter of rewarding Wooten for the work done in practice. He had impressed, and in doing so, gained the confidence of his coaches and teammates.
“He’s been playing well, he’s been practicing well, and he has a lot of ability,” Cox said. “We want to definitely try to find ways to get him the ball.”
Wooten made two catches against Arizona State – both crucial. The first came on a third-down play, and Wooten reached out to haul in the reception at the sideline for a 27-yard gain. Georgia didn’t end up scoring on the drive, but it was Wooten’s catch that flipped field position and helped the defense keep Arizona State at bay.
On Georgia’s final drive of the game, the Bulldogs faced a third-and-four with 3:22 left to play. Cox hit Wooten for an 11-yard gain and first down. Seven plays later, Blair Walsh booted the game-winning field goal – a moment that wouldn’t have been possible without Wooten’s grab to extend the drive.
The catch was a confidence builder Wooten said, but what meant more was the fact that his coaches believed in him during such a key moment in the game.
His hard work earned him an opportunity, and now just like in high school, Wooten has no intentions of looking back.
“I know it was a big catch, but the main thing is I just want to play, and I feel like when they gave me the opportunity to get on the field, I had to make the most of that opportunity because you only get so many opportunities,” Wooten said. “Everybody doesn’t get that chance, so I wanted to take full advantage of it.”