He’s a 6-foot linebacker, which helps explain why Wesley Woodyard was a lightly recruited prospect out of LaGrange, Ga., in 2004 and an undrafted free agent out of Kentucky in 2008.
He was voted a team captain as a UK freshman and as a rookie with the Denver Broncos, which helps explain why he’s a nine-year NFL veteran – recently signed by the Titans to a contract extension worth as much as $12.75 million. And why, even amid the offseason crunch of a 6-week-old baby at home and intensive work to improve his pass coverage skills, Woodyard found time for Brackets for Good.
The Indianapolis-based program is in Nashville for the first time this year, and 47 local charities took part in the first Nashville bracket, with a total of $72,000 raised so far. It’s head-to-head matchups based on donations – which can be made at nashville.bfg.org/bracket – and it has been pared down from the original 47 to the “Philanthropic Four” to the championship match.
Donating goes until 8 p.m. Friday between Cottage Cove Urban Ministries (helping at-risk children excel academically) and Park Center (recovery programs for people with mental illness). The winner will get a $10,000 grand prize from the Buckingham Foundation in addition to the money raised. And both will get a visit from Woodyard.
He was chosen as the “Nashville All-Star” for this year’s event and has helped promote it through his 16 Ways Foundation. He started that in 2010 with a focus on literacy programs, life skills and football camps.
And just as with his career and his family, Woodyard’s passion is palpable. You get him going and you get out of the way.
“Any way we can help kids, whether that’s providing mental help, physical help or just showing them, ‘There’s someone out here who believes in you,’ I tell you what, it took a lot of people in my life,” Woodyard said. “And they had nothing to gain from me being successful.”
Coaches and teachers, for example, and cousin-in-law Derrick Kelley, a mentor who helped Woodyard develop as a player and student. Also, a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer who made an impact on young Woodward with a talk about drugs.
“That definitely changed my life as a little kid because I grew up in a neighborhood where you would walk past drug-related houses and gang-related houses,” Woodyard said. “My teachers believed in me; I had a couple who would bring me around their kids, and to be a kid from a middle-class, single-parent home and to be loved by not only just a teacher but a teacher from an opposite race, that goes a long way.”
Woodyard and his wife, Veronica, welcomed Luca Cruz Woodyard to the world on Feb. 12, making it a family of five in their offseason home in Orlando. He has been working there with NFL cornerback Tony Carter, a former teammate in Denver, because Woodyard knows coverage skills are going to be crucial in 2017 after tight ends victimized the Titans often in 2016.
“I’ve been working on my flexibility,” said Woodyard, who had 53 tackles, two sacks, five pass breakups and a pick last season. “Different backpedaling drills, different transition drills, to get out of cuts. And I think that will help me out a lot. I’ve never really taken advantage of working with DBs on my teams, but I think that’s something all linebackers can learn from. I didn’t know some of the footsteps that can put you in better position to get across the field and cover a guy. It’s good to hear a cornerback’s mindset, and most guys never hear that in their careers. I’m in year 10 and I’m still learning.”
And that explains better than anything why the Titans extended Woodyard, a leader for his entire NFL career, through 2019. Even at just 6-foot and with a 31st birthday coming up in July. Passion matters, and Woodyard has it for more than the game.
“Michael Jordan said it best: you never know what kid is looking at you for the first time,” he said. “You have an opportunity when you step on the field to open somebody’s eyes, show them they can be better, how to do things the proper way. If you have an opportunity to use this game in a positive way, you should do it, and that’s something I hold dear to my heart, man. Every rookie on our team, I take it personal to try to build a relationship with those guys, make sure they don’t settle for less, make sure they’re working hard every day. Make sure they’re doing the things that will get them into year 10.”