words, interview and image_Jordan Hagedorn
From North Platte High School and Chadron State College in Nebraska to the NFL’s New York Jets and now New England Patriots, running back Danny Woodhead has taken advantage of every opportunity he has been given on the football field.
As a senior at North Platte High, Woodhead rushed for 2,037 yards and scored 31 touchdowns, finishing his high school football career as Nebraska’s Class A all-time leading rusher with 4,891 yards. This was in addition to scoring 26 points a game in hoops and leading the soccer team in scoring. He is super-athletic, but he also works extremely hard. I talked to Danny at a football camp over the summer where he told me, “Working hard is something that you can decide to do. It’s not your choice to be 6 foot or 5 foot 8. That’s not up to you. With whatever talent you have, you always have the choice of working hard to make yourself a better player on your own. That’s definitely what I did. I worked hard and I never let anyone tell me I couldn’t do it. I still remember freshman year of high school people said I couldn’t play running back and then it worked out for me.”
After graduating high school, Woodhead didn’t receive any Division I scholarship offers, so he decided to attend Division II Chadron State in Chadron, Nebraska, where long-time NFL vet Don Beebe played college ball.
As a true freshman, Woodhead stepped right in for the Eagles and instantly made an impact, rushing 284 times for 1,840 yards and 25 touchdowns, also catching 16 passes for 162 yards and two scores.
As a sophomore, he had 278 carries for 1,769 yards and 21 touchdowns and had 30 catches for 367 yards. In both of his first two seasons, he was nominated for the Harlon Hill Trophy–the D2 equivalent of the Heisman.
As a junior, Woodhead was unbelievable. He rushed for a record 2,756 yards on 344 carries and 34 touchdowns, averaging a crazy eight yards per carry and 212 yards per game. He caught 45 balls for 403 yards and four touchdowns.
Woodhead won the Harlon Hill Trophy in 2006, while leading his team to a 12-1 record.
In his senior season, Danny had 250 carries for 1,597 yards and 21 TDs. He won the Harlon Hill Trophy for the second year in a row and once again led the Eagles to a 12-1 record. Some NFL scouts projected Woodhead to be a second-day pick in the 2008 draft, but he went undrafted.
After the draft, on the night of April 27, the Jets signed him to a rookie free agent deal. In July 2008, he was carried off the field with a left knee injury. He was placed on injured reserve and missed the entire season. After surgery and rehab, Woodhead returned to the field in 2009. In the Jets’ last 2009 preseason game against the Eagles, he ran the ball 18 times for 158 yards and two TDs, solidifying his roster spot for the regular season. Appearing in 10 games, he ran 36 times for 178 yards, scored two rushing TDs, and caught 8 balls for 87 yards.
This year, Woodhead gained notoriety by appearing on HBO’s Hard Knocks, where cameras followed the Jets throughout training camp. He was one of the last players to make the roster, but head coach Rex Ryan really seemed to like what he could do on the field. The Jets release Woodhead on Tuesday, September 14, a day after their 10-9 Monday Night loss to the Ravens in Week 1. Four days later, the New England Patriots signed him to a one-year deal.
Since then, Woodhead has stepped in for the injured Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk and is contributing nicely to the Tom Brady-led offense. In his first game for the Patriots on September 26, he ran the ball three times for 42 yards; including a 22-yard TD run in the second quarter to give New England a 14-13 lead. The Pats went on to a 38-30 victory over the Bills and were just discovering that they had found a nice replacement for the injured veteran running backs. In his second game with the Patriots—in front of a Monday Night Football crowd—Woodhead carried the ball eight times for 36 yards. The lone reception was an 11-yard touchdown from Brady in the 3rd quarter, helping his team pull away from the Dolphins. In a key AFC match-up with the Ravens on October 17, Woodhead had a career game. He carried the ball 11 times for a team-high 63 yards rushing and also caught five balls for 52 yards in a 23-20 overtime win. The following week, he contributed with multiple runs and catches in a 23-20 win over the Chargers. This past Sunday, he scored a TD in the second quarter against the Vikings on the Patriots’ way to a 28-18 win.
In just five games with New England, Woodhead has already racked up more rushes, catches, yards and touchdowns than he did in 10 games last year with the Jets. He is filling in nicely for a franchise that has a knack for finding talent to make them contenders year in and year out. The Patriots are 5-0 with Woodhead on the field this season.
I was able to chat with Danny Woodhead in Tony, WI where he was helping out his friend Jim Leonhard at his annual football camp on June 23. Here is what we talked about:
Jordan Hagedorn: Coming out of high school, you weren’t highly recruited, talk about playing at a D II school and that journey.
Danny Woodhead: Any journey like that is going to be a long journey. There were a lot of people that doubted me, but that’s just something that comes with being smaller and not the prototype, but it was a whirlwind, both high school and college. I was tremendously blessed with the people around me, whether it be the coaches or players that were there. I was given great opportunities and I just did what I could and I was very, very blessed to be able to set the record and go through all of the stuff that came along with that. Then obviously getting a chance in the NFL, it wasn’t the most ideal way to do it, but nonetheless I think it really helped me out doing it the way I did it. Now that I’m in the NFL, no matter where I’m at I will never get comfortable, I’ll always work hard.
Talk about the obstacles you overcame to get to the NFL.
I don’t think there were any obstacles physically, maybe the people doubting you can drain you mentally but that type of stuff doesn’t bother me. It’s just going out there to prove the important people wrong, but I never felt like I was at a disadvantage for being smaller.
Who were your biggest influences growing up?
I think it’d probably be my dad and my older brother. Those were two influences that were around me just because I was playing with my brother I always had to work harder. I’d play pick up games with my brother and his friends and my dad was a coach so I always wanted to impress him. Other than that, in the NFL, I was always a Barry Sanders guy. Barry Sanders was the guy that I looked up to. He wasn’t very big and he showed people what he could do.
Any advice for people looking to play sports at a high level?
Working hard is something that you can decide to do. It’s not your choice to be 6 foot or 5 foot 8. That’s not up to you. With whatever talent you have, you always have the choice of working hard to make yourself a better player on your own. That’s definitely what I did. I worked hard and I never let anyone tell me I couldn’t do it. I still remember freshman year of high school people said I couldn’t play running back and then it worked out for me.
What are you looking forward to this season?
I look forward to competing this year and getting better. I am just looking to help the team in any way I can.
What is your favorite food?
I’m a burger and fries guy.
What are some of your favorite movies?
All comedies. I’m a big Will Ferrell guy.
What kinds of music do you like?
I’m random. I list to a lot of country. I listen to Christian music, I listen to rap and rock. There’s not one, just depends on the mood I’m in.
What do you like to do when you’re not playing football?
Golf. I love golfing. Other than spending time with my wife, I love golfing. That’s my hobby.
After talking to Danny about his journey and life a little bit, he told me about how he grew up with Eastbay. He said he’d always grab his cleats and gear from us when he was younger. Being a fellow Midwestern kid, we could both relate, as we remember getting the Eastbay catalog and checking out the website. He also talked about helping out at Jim Leonhard’s football camp in Tony, WI. He looked at it as a way for the players to give back and help the younger kids. For three days, he, Leonhard and several other coaches taught fundamental football to give the kids a good base.
There’s no doubt that Woodhead will continue to work hard and take advantage of every opportunity he gets on the football field. He and the Patriots look to continue their winnings ways as they travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns this Sunday.
words and interview_Jordan Hagedorn
Tonight the New York Jets will take on the Baltimore Ravens in what is one of my NFL Week 1 Top 3 Matchups. It features two hard-nosed AFC teams with high-profile free agent additions. This off-season Jets acquired defensive stud Jason Taylor and legendary running back LaDainian Tomlinson, while the Ravens traded for WR Anquan Boldin.
The Jets/Ravens game will include celebrity-like players in Mark Sanchez and Ray Lewis and great players that a lot of football fans know in Derrelle Revis, Ray Rice, Braylon Edwards, and the aforementioned 3 pick-ups. Then you have a guy who has flown under the radar his entire football career, 5-foot 8-inch, 188-pound Jets starting Safety Jim Leonhard.
Leonhard was born in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, and attended Flambeau High School in the small town of Tony, Wisconsin, where the population is 105. He excelled at baseball, basketball and football for the Falcons. After being named All-State his junior and senior year of high school, he got in front of the coaches at UW-Madison, where they asked him to try out for the football team. He would be a walk-on for the Badgers, but he gave it a shot.
After making the team, Leonhard worked hard and got better, eventually earning a scholarship his senior year. He tallied 21 interceptions in his college career, which is tied for most in Badger history. He was also one of the most effective punt returners in the Big Ten, where he held the record for most career punt return yards until his record was broken in 2006.
After college, Leonhard went undrafted, but signed with the Buffalo Bills as a rookie free agent. After a couple of seasons with theBills, he signed with the Ravens for a year and then with the Jets. He followed coach Rex Ryan to the Jets to start the 2009 season, and in March of last year he inked a three-year deal worth about $6 million.
Leonhard faces his old team tonight in what should be an extremely physical battle for AFC bragging rights.
I caught up with Jimmy at his Football Camp over the summer. Read below to see what he had to say.
Jordan Hagedorn: Coming from a small town, not being highly recruited, you ended up playing for the Wisconsin Badgers. Can you talk about your journey to the NFL?
Jim Leonhard: It’s definitely not the easiest path to take. Coming from a small town, you just don’t get that much exposure, and you have to go out and find it. You have to go out and get in front of coaches, and I was fortunate enough to go do that and go down to Madison and get in front of their coaching staff to where they asked me to walk on. Its difficult coming from a small town, but it’s not impossible. It can be done.
Talk about playing for the Badgers in front of a sold-out Camp Randall.
[It was] extremely exciting. Being a Wisconsin kid, you’re always watching the Badgers. It has one of the best atmospheres in college football. To be able to play in front of that for four years, you can’t take those memories away.
Talk about the Jim Leonhard Skills Camp and how it came about and what you’re trying to accomplish.
I love giving back and coaching and helping young kids. I had an opportunity a couple years ago to put this camp together and was able to get a lot of very talented local coaches as well as some teammates that I’ve played with in my career to just give back to the community. It’s hard. There’s not very many football camps in Northern Wisconsin. It’s good to come to the kids, to come to the athletes and really try to help them out and the coaches as well.
After college, you went undrafted, signed with the Bills, then went to the Ravens, then followed Coach Ryan to the Jets; can you talk about those obstacles after college and how sweet it is to be in the NFL?
My career especially, and a lot of careers in the NFL, it really is a roller coaster. There are a lot of bumps in the road. I’m very fortunate to be going into my sixth season, which is well beyond the average for most players. Just to finally have found a coaching staff and a coach in Rex Ryan that I really have total faith in, in what he does and what he preaches is a lot of fun, and to be around a great group of guys like that, continue your career and have an opportunity to start and make plays and get in playoff games has been a dream come true.
Who were your biggest influences?
Growing up I had a lot of family members, a huge, athletic family. We were always doing something. My dad has been a coach ever since I could walk, and then I have a brother who is a couple years older than me. I was always chasing him around. I always wanted to play with the older kids, and it really pushed me. I had to improve at a quicker rate in order to hang with those guys. I had a lot of fun, but outside of that, professional I was a huge Barry Sanders fan. Obviously one of the greats of the game, Hall of Fame, the whole deal. He’s as good as it gets. Being a shorter, smaller guy, a more compact guy like myself, I really looked up to him.
Any advice for someone looking to play football at a high level?
The biggest thing is continue to work. So many kids get caught up in their area. Especially growing up in a small area like this. They might be the best in their area, but that’s not who you’re competing against. It’s a big country, and there’re a lot of kids that want to get where you want to get. Whether it’s collegiate football or professional football, everyone that plays the game wants to get there. You can’t lose sight of the fact that you always have to continue to push yourself and push your teammates to make everyone better.
What do you do to train now, and what did you do to get to this point?
The biggest thing is lifting weights and lots of speed and agility work. Not being the biggest guy, it doesn’t matter necessarily how strong I’m going to be. Those other players have a lot of weight on me. I have to have the intelligence and the speed and the quickness in order to get out of situations and to make plays. It’s a good combination; you need a little bit of everything and can’t look past that thing on your shoulders. You have to have the intelligence in order to have success in this game.
Who do you train with? Where do you train?
Pretty much strictly back out in New York with our strength and conditioning staff. Sal Olosi is our head strength coach, and he does a great job along all of his assistants. When I’m back in Wisconsin, I’ll get back to the University of Wisconsin and work out with some of their trainers and try to be around those athletes to get some good conditioning in as well.
Talk about the famous college dunk contest.
It was a fun thing we always did in our winter conditioning at Wisconsin. One day rather than running us into the ground, we’d go play basketball and do some conditioning, and they always had a dunk contest to have fun and get everyone pumped up about it. I was fortunate enough to come in as a sleeper after my freshman year. Nobody really knew I could dunk, so I kind of opened some eyes. It worked out very well, and the next year I had to go back and defend the title. The judges might have been on my side that year I think, but I was able to get another win.
Do you stay in touch with any Wisconsin Badgers?
I try to stay in touch with a lot of guys. One of my roommates all through college was Owen Daniels, who is with the Houston Texans. A lot of guys that aren’t playing anymore are great friends of mine. Its fun to see everyone have success. I go back [to UW] every offseason and work out with some guys, so it’s fun to get to know some younger guys that I didn’t get to play with like Chris Maragos, Jay Valai and O’Brien Schofield, who just came out this last year. Just kinda pass on the words of wisdom that you’ve learned in the NFL and even your time in college. Those kids really appreciate that, and they really take what you say to heart.
Who is the most fun to play against? Most challenging opponent?
I think the most fun games are your division games. Being in the AFC, especially in our division you got Tom Brady, and then I go to Buffalo where I was for three years, and then I go down to Miami, which is never easy. You gotta like those games first and foremost, then you look at the rest of the conference where you got Indianapolis and you can play Denver. There are some very talented teams and very talented quarterbacks that don’t make it easy. Unfortunately, the last couple years in the AFC Championship games I’ve run into some very talented teams with Pittsburgh and Indianapolis – teams that were playing really well at the time and obviously made it to that Super Bowl. It’s never a good thing to get beat in that game. That one probably hurts the most out of any of them.
Describe the journey of getting to that Championship level.
It’s amazing. Just seeing the way a team comes together and a whole organization and a city come together, it’s so much fun, but to lose that game is extremely tough, because once you’ve made it that far, you realize that you have a team that can go all the way. If you catch a break here and there, you can easily get the job done. So that’s difficult, but that’s why you play the game. You live for those types of games and that atmosphere. You win some, you lose some, but you hope you win more than you lose.
It keeps you hungry, though, I suppose?
Absolutely. Until you get that ring or multiple rings, no one in the league is satisfied.
What cleats do you wear and why? What’s the most important thing in a cleat?
I’m a [Nike] Vapor [Jet] guy. I love them. The weight of them and how they feel. The bottoms are exactly what I need being a defensive back. It’s all about comfort and what can get the job done on the field. I’ve been an Eastbay kid my whole life. Always been ordering from Eastbay. In an area like this, Eastbay is exactly what you need.
What is it about Eastbay that you liked the most growing up?
Being from a small town, it’s hard to find what you’re looking for. Eastbay has the best of the best. They have all those products. Being a rural Wisconsin kid, it was always hard to get what I wanted and what I felt like would help me have success, and Eastbay really allowed that for me. Growing up as a kid, I was always at the Eastbay Tent Sale in Wausau. I was able to load up for everything – for school, for sports. They took care of me for the whole year.
What is your favorite food.
I’m kind of a steak and potatoes guy. I don’t have it all the time, but if I need a last meal, that would be it.
What kind of movies do you like?
I like funny movies. Huge Chris Farley guy. Tommy Boy. Adam Sandler. Wedding Crashers is probably number one right now for me.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I’m all over the map. Pretty much everything but country. I just like good music, good live music.
What do you do when you’re not playing football.
I’m pretty low key. Summers I like to golf, love getting outside. I’m very competitive, and golf is a game where you have to be competitive against yourself. I just like to relax at home with my wife and dogs.
For a low key guy, Leonhard has found quite a bit of success in the greatest football league on earth. He is a vocal leader for the Jets and is one of the pieces that holds their excellent defense together.
Keep an eye out for number 36 on the field tonight and throughout the season. We’ll be checking in with him on occasion as the season progresses.
New York Jets Safety Jim Leonhard will be hosting a Football Skills Camp in Tony, WI from Wednesday, June 23rd to Friday, June 25th. It is a non-padded camp for freshman through senior athletes looking to learn football fundamentals including the techniques and drills used by Leonhard to perform at the highest level.
There is also a camp for 5th – 8th graders on Saturday June 26th.
Click here for details on Jim Leonhard’s Football Skills Camp.
Leonhard played quarterback and free safety at Flambeau High School in Tony, WI. When he was a Freshman his team won the State championship in football. As a Junior and Senior team captain he was named All-State. He walked on at the University of Wisconsin and started every game in his final 3 seasons as a Badger. He tied the Badger record of 21 interceptions and ranks fourth in Wisconsin Badger history with 50 defended passes. He was known as one of the better punt returners in the Big Ten and finished his career as the conference leader in career punt return yards with 1,347. In 2005 Leonhard went undrafted but ended up signing with the Buffalo Bills and made their opening day roster. That year he played in 10 games. After a couple solid years with the Bills, he then signed with the Ravens in 2008. He had a productive year in Baltimore and then signed a 3 year deal with the Jets last year. He started 16 games for the Jets in 2009 leading them to the AFC Championship. At 5′ 8″, 186 pounds Leonhard isn’t the biggest guy but he has worked hard to make it to the Nation Football League.
Check out Jim Leonhard on the web:
Jim Leonhard Official Website.
Jim Leonhard Facebook Fanpage.
Jim Leonhard on Twitter.
Few teams in the NFL have made more big name acquisitions than the New York Jets, but whether all of these big names get them to the Super Bowl or just raise the teams average age is debatable.
The Jets added Jason Taylor to their list of off-season acquisitions, which includes other former pro-bowlers, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, defensive back Antonio Cromartie, and Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes.
Taylor is likely a future Hall of Famer, and not only due to his dancing skills. Taylor currently ranks 11th on the all time sack leaders list with 127.5 (highest among active players). Add that to a slew of other awards and six Pro Bowl appearances and he’s all but guaranteed his post-career membership to the Hall.
Taylor signed a two year deal with the Jets, who did the same with Tomlinson earlier this off season, are obviously looking to get back to the Super Bowl, and soon. Taylor, 35, and Tomlison, 30, are no doubt solid additions to the franchise but they might be better suited to steer the younger Jets acquisitions in a better direction. Either way, the Jets have improved upon last year’s team, and if LT and JT perform up to their capabilities, then the Jets should find themselves going deep into the playoffs at the very least.
With the 2010 NFL Draft beginning tomorrow, the Jets have the 29th pick. Be on the lookout tomorrow, as our resident NFL expert, Brandon Richard, will give more insight on the Jets adding the final piece to the puzzle with the 29th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
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