LEXINGTON, Ky. – Andre’ Woodson has logged an impressive set of accomplishments in his football career.
Coming to play at Kentucky from Radcliff, Ky., Woodson was a three-year starter as a Wildcat, ranking among the top quarterbacks in school history. During his time at UK from 2004-07, he passed for 9,360 yards and 79 touchdowns. He led UK to consecutive Music City Bowl wins as a junior and senior before going on to be a sixth-round draft pick of the New York Giants in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Even with all he’s done athletically, a simple walk across a stage and handshake will be just as memorable.
“It’s going to be an enormous accomplishment to finally finish my college experience and my degree,” Woodson said. “I was in school five years and I left for the NFL. It’s been a long road, but for UK to put me on scholarship and give me a chance to finish my degree, it means the world to me. I’m very excited and thrilled to have the opportunity to walk across the stage and know that I came back and finished something that no one in my family has ever done.”
On Friday, Woodson will receive his bachelor’s degree in community communications and leadership development. The Wildcat legend returned to campus in January 2011 after placing a call to his former offensive coordinator and current UK head coach Joker Phillips, who welcomed him back “with open arms” as a student assistant coach.
From the start, Woodson was happy just to be around the program where he got his start. As an aspiring football coach, he knew he wouldn’t find two better mentors to learn from than Phillips and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, who was Woodson’s quarterbacks coach just a few years ago.
“The experience was wonderful,” Woodson said. “I got to come back and get a chance to be around Coach Sanders and Coach Joker. It was everything that I thought it would be. It was great to be around those guys again and get a chance to spend time with them.”
Learning from Phillips and Sanders, as well as his other fellow coaches, was all he hoped it would be, but the truly special part of his experience as a student assistant was getting to know and working with the players.
“The thing that’s probably the best part is you get to meet all the new guys that are on the team and build relationships with them,” Woodson said. “I think that’s always a special part. You get to experience new things with them and help them become better players. As you try to become a coach, that’s the big thing: teaching them all about the game as well as teaching them how to be men.”
Based on his familiarity with UK’s system and his time as a player, Woodson knew he would have things to teach his new pupils even though he is only a few years older than them at 27, but he was pleasantly surprised with how much Sanders and Phillips trusted him right off the bat and how natural he felt as a coach.
“It caught me off guard how quickly I felt comfortable trying to coach,” Woodson said. “With the X’s and O’s and knowing the game, I still have a long way to go as a young coach. I feel like I’m a lot more advanced than other people would be just for the simple fact that I played quarterback and I had to know a lot of it.”
He was assigned to work with UK’s quarterbacks, a group that included junior Morgan Newton and freshman Maxwell Smith. Both Newton and Smith played extensive snaps this season and there was scarcely a time either would come off the field without talking to Woodson.
“It was amazing that Coach Sanders believed in me so much that he would allow me to do that,” Woodson said. “He told me that not only did he want me to be the signal caller, but he wanted me to talk to the quarterbacks every time they came to the sideline to see what they’re thinking, tell them what I was thinking and basically try to teach them how to be a quarterback.”
Woodson wouldn’t close the door on resuming his playing career should an opportunity arise, but a year spent working with UK’s quarterbacks, coaches and other players has reinforced in his mind that he can see himself as a coach for a long time.
He has yet to determine what the immediate future holds, naming a graduate assistant position or an assisting coaching job at a smaller school as possibilities. Whatever coaching opportunity comes next for him, he’ll have the time he spent at UK to prove he has the passion and ability to succeed in it.
“Now that I have a year experience and I got to really see what goes on behind the scenes with watching film and how we prepare ourselves each week, I definitely have the sense that I love this,” Woodson said. “I feel like it’s a calling. To build relationships with these players, I think that’s really what makes it so special.”
Seven Current Cats Already Graduated: Seven members of the 2011 Kentucky football team had graduated even before the season began, including safety Taiedo Smith, cornerback Anthony Mosley, offensive guard Stuart Hines, defensive lineman Antwane Glenn, offensive lineman Jake Lanefski, linebacker Ronnie Sneed and punter Ryan Tydlacka.
Additional members of the 2011 squad are slated to graduate in May, 2012, following the conclusion of the spring semester.