Damien Woody: Dominator and Dancing Bear of the Boston College Offensive Line

Woody head and shouldersOn Damien Woody’s first day of practice at Boston College, head coach Dan Henning tossed the eager young lineman a football and proclaimed,

“You’re a center.”

The reaction was predictable. “Who, me? I’ve never played that position in my life. Both sides of the line, but never center,” thought the former high school All-America from Patrick Henry High in Roanoke, Virginia.

Henning went on to tell Woody,” Don’t worry. We’ll teach you all the nuances of the position. You’re just what the pros are looking for. In three years you’ll be the top center in the NFL draft.”

Dan certainly knew his business. After a redshirt year and three varsity seasons, Damien Woody, degree already in hand, became the first center selected in round one – 17th overall – in more than ten years. He played a dozen seasons in the pros at center, guard, and tackle.

Damien embraced the challenge at BC and flourished, especially under line coach George Warhop. He learned long snapping. He figured out how to block the guy who was leaning over him as he crouched low. He got the knack of calling out blocking assignments before the snap – as “quarterback of the offensive line,” as he dubs the position. The other linemen make calls too, after the action commences, but the center takes the lead at the beginning of the play.

Teammates at BC called him “The Dominator.” He topped out at around 335 pounds and, at 6-4, was taller than most centers. His practice-day battles with defensive tackle Chris Hovan, who went on to play a decade in the NFL, made each one’s game days seems like light workouts.

Were it not for his grandfather, Franklin Woody, Damien might never have played football. He wasn’t an especially big youngster, standing 5-10 and weighing 200 pounds in ninth grade. He was naturally athletic, playing basketball and running track, but his parents were reluctant to let him pad up for football. Grandfather Franklin took up the cause, and they relented. Damien joined the team.

Two years later, pixie dust fell on Damien Woody. In the summer between sophomore and junior years, in a span of about four months, he grew six inches and gained 60 pounds. The same thing happened to his best friend Aaron Kinney.
Woody explained that his growth spurt didn’t bring on any of the usual awkwardness or clumsiness. He was able to move about as well as ever — just a bigger version of what he was before, as he describes it.

Patrick Henry High became a juggernaut. Colleges came calling. The offers rolled in, first of which was a full ride to the University of Virginia when Damien was a junior. Woody and Kinney visited Boston College together. Damien opted for the Eagles while Kinney committed to Florida.

“I wanted to be a true student athlete,” Damien explains. “My parents and I both valued a good education, and I wanted a geographical change.”

That move brought him north but lost him a girlfriend. Word of his decision to spurn UVA and go to BC got back to Nicole Young even before he could tell her himself. She broke up with him on the spot. They’d been close since meeting in ninth-grade home room. She stayed home in Virginia. He was off to see the world.

The combined record of BC teams for Damien’s three varsity seasons was 14-21. It was a time of transition, from Henning’s tenure to that of Tom O’Brien. However, the offensive line remained a potent and formidable component, clearing the way for Mike Cloud and other runners to roll up hundreds of yards per game.

Damien kept growing too, putting on another 30 pounds while still maintaining his agility. “I was the dancing bear,” he says. “An offensive lineman has to be smart, and tough, and he has to have good feet. If you’ve got those three things, I can work with you at any level.”

Woody could have played another year at BC, but all indications were that he’d be a first round pick. He declared, and wasn’t disappointed. Taken by the Patriots, he earned Super Bowl rings in 2001 and 2003 and went to the Pro Bowl in 2002.
After five years with the Pats, Damien played four years for the Detroit Lions and three for the New York Jets. He played in 173 NFL games and started in 166 of them.

“I was fortunate enough to play for the best coaches in the business,” he states. “Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick for the Patriots, then later on Eric Mangini and Rex Ryan.”

Damien’s body told him when it was time to retire. He tore a meniscus while playing a full season for the Jets. He rehabbed quickly, but at the end of the playoff game against the Colts, his Achilles tendon tore. He hadn’t even touched anyone on the play.

“My wife and girls were in tears after that game. But I knew it was over for me. I was at peace with it. I’d done everything I’d set out to do,” he says.

Shortly after that, ESPN approached Damien’s agent, Ben Dogra, about an audition. It was another ideal fit for Damien’s talents. He became a football analyst and a fixture on Sports Center.

By the way, you knew that lost-girlfriend story would have a happy ending. About midway through Damien’s sophomore year, the phone rang in his dorm room. It was Nicole. She’d been thinking of him, as he’d been thinking of her. They talked for five hours and got back together.

Damien and Nicole now have seven children: Kamille, 16; Jalynn, 15; Alexandra, 13; Domonique, 11; Damien II, who’s known as Deuce, 8; Dontrell, 7; and Jacoby, 3.

he Woody family launched the Pros Foundation, which raises money to help send terminally-ill children’s cancer patients and their families to Disney World. They also organized a fashion show for the Robin Hood Foundation, which helps to feed needy families in New York.

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