Southland Conference (SLC) 2014 Defensive Player of the Year and senior Jonathan Woodard, 21, hopes to bring home a National Championship during his last season as a UCA bear.
Woodard’s journey at UCA began in fall 2011 after moving from his hometown of Brentwood, Tennessee, and choosing to make the campus his new home.
“When I came on my [college]visit, my host showed me a great time and I felt the sense of brotherhood I was looking for in a team,” he said.
Woodard started playing football in seventh grade for a local team, the “Brentwood Blaze,” and the rest is history.
After being redshirted his freshman year, Woodard’s football success quickly picked up.
In 2012, he appeared in 12 games at defensive end and was named Southland Conference Defensive Play of the Week on Oct. 1, 2012.
The next two seasons played out similarly, with Woodard consistently impressing coaches, players and the crowd.
Woodard has made UCA history with second in sacks with 25.0 and fourth in sack yards at 133 yards.
He also set a school record with 3.5 sacks against Stephen F. Austin University in 2014.
Other honors include being a finalist for the 2014 Buck Buchanan Award and an annual member of the All-SLC first team (2012, 2013, 2014).
Woodard said his biggest support system is his parents.
“They have been constantly supporting me since I got to UCA and it has never wavered,” he said. “Since my redshirt freshman year, they have only missed one home or away game. Unfortunately, the one game they missed is the game where I returned a fumble for a 70-yard touchdown.”
Woodard has a group of people who play a large role in his life.
“Both my family and my girlfriend have provided me constant support in not only football, but life as well,” he said.
His biggest inspiration this year, however, is Payne Shanafelt. Woodard changed his number from 90 to 3 in honor of Shanafelt, one of his best friends who died last August.
“I’ll play every snap for him this year,” he said.
Not only is Woodard playing in honor of Shanafelt, but he always has a little fan that is adamant not to miss any games.
This pint-sized fan’s name is Jett Blaylock. He is Woodard’s No. 1 fan and considers Woodard as his idol.
Before and after every game, Blaylock runs onto the field to congratulate Woodard on his performance and even has a shirt with Woodard’s name and number on the back.
As the season begins, people are expecting continued success from Woodard, which he plans on using as motivation for growth.
“It’s a great honor [being named 2014 SLC Defensive Player of the Year]and it’s motivation to improve on my last season,” he said. “There is always room for improvement, and this award is a constant reminder of that.”
Despite the personal award and attention Woodard has received, his teammates are still incredibly important to him.
“Over the years I have played with great players and forged bonds with teammates that will transcend my time as a UCA Bear,” he said.
Woodard hasn’t always been a football player. Woodard didn’t begin playing football until seventh grade. Prior to football he played basketball and ran track.
Woodard’s regular game day doesn’t consist of any superstitious traditions many athletes have, he said.
A simple pre-game playlist ready to go and a written message on his wrist tape does it.
The team prepares for each game through lots of film study and meetings to evaluate the opponent, in addition to lifting weights during the week.
“I think the key to our [team]success is to come out strong,” Woodard said. “We came out flat in several games and fell behind early, only to make a comeback and then fall short in the end.”
His advice for anyone hoping to play college football is to find a good school where you can see yourself for the next four-five years, push your high school accomplishments behind you, be ready to work and take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way.
“Some players are blessed enough to have the size, skill and strength from the start, but the majority of freshmen will have to work and grind to become the player they want to be,” he said. “Nothing will be handed to you.”
With his last season at UCA about to begin, the future is a prevalent question for Woodard.
With an undergraduate degree in health services administration and working toward an MBA in healthcare administration, his future has many possibilities; including his goal of professional football.
“I definitely see a future for myself in the NFL,” he said. “However, it’s too soon to worry about that. As long as I handle my business on the field, everything else will fall into place.”
image via Twitter