Four years ago,
Undrafted, the linebacker boarded a flight to Denver on a “dark, gloomy day,” as he remembers it, believing his chances of making the team as a college free agent were “slim to none.” But he was going to give it everything he had.
Fast forward to 2011. Woodyard has been voted a captain three times. He leads the team in special-teams stops since his rookie campaign, and has contributed more than 100 tackles on defense.
Not to mention he already serves as inspiration to younger teammates looking to follow in his footsteps.
“I'm trying to go out there and be just like him,” said
This season, Woodyard stepped in as a starter when
But Woodyard isn’t happy with where he is -- he strives to get better on a daily basis.
“I never try to remember the good plays, I always remember the bad plays and what I can do to get better,” he said. “To me, that’s what keeps us growing. Whenever you stop learning from your mistakes, that’s when you’re going to decline in your game. It’s an uphill battle every day to get better, and that’s something that I take pride in, trying to get better every day.”
Entering his senior season at Kentucky, Woodyard was confident.
He was fresh off a junior campaign that earned him first-team All-SEC honors, and he was watching players he dominated in college head to the NFL and find success, giving him hope he could follow in their footsteps.
“You build that momentum as the years go on,” Woodyard said. “My senior year I just knew that I could play in the NFL.”
That season, Woodyard put together his third straight 100-tackle season en route to first-team All-SEC honors again.
He left Kentucky ranked eighth in school history with 395 tackles, and was anxious for the 2008 NFL Draft.
He played in the Senior Bowl, went through the NFL Scouting Combine and held a Pro Day at Kentucky. So when draft day came, Woodyard gathered his family and they watched as the rounds went by.
Woodyard, who thought he would be taken no later than the fourth or fifth round, never heard his name called.
“Seeing guys that I worked out with, guys that I thought I was better than get taken before me, it was painful,” Woodyard said. “But I give credit to that. I felt like it was about to be taken from me. So I came out here and I just wanted to fight and leave it all on the field.”
Woodyard said he took the advice of Assistant Director of Pro Personnel Anthony “Champ” Kelly, a fellow Kentucky alum, and headed to Denver to try to make the team as a college free agent.
Jump to the final preseason game of 2008 against the Houston Texans. Due to injuries, Woodyard got the first start of his career, and he didn’t waste the opportunity.
He led the team with six solo tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
“At the end of the game I actually cried,” Woodyard recalled. “I had been thinking that I couldn’t play this game. I called my brother, and I said ‘I can play this game.’ He said, ‘Man, we believed in you.’”
He made the final 53-man roster, and called it “an experience I’ll never forget.” From that day forward he had confidence that he could make it in the NFL.
“It’s something that from time to time I reminisce on,” Woodyard said. “It’s a chip on my shoulder that I’m glad I have.”
MAKING HIS MARK
Four years into his NFL career, Woodyard has made a name for himself both on the field and in the locker room.
On special teams, Woodyard has shined – he leads the Broncos in special-teams stops since his rookie season, and has already made two this year.
On defense, the linebacker has made 148 tackles, starting 12 of his 47 career games. He has also chipped in a sack, an interception, a forced fumble and four passes defensed.
This season, Head Coach John Fox was impressed with the way Woodyard stepped in for the injured Williams, part of the club’s “next man up” mantra.
“He stepped in and has done a terrific job,” Head Coach John Fox said. “He made the most of that opportunity.”
As a reserve against Green Bay, he was second on the club in tackles and made a special-teams stop.
“Any time I’m on that field, I’m going to give it my all,” Woodyard said. “I love my teammates and I love the game of football. It’s not my duty to worry about when or how I get on the field. My job is to go out there and give it all I’ve got for that play or however long it is I’m in there. That’s the only thing that matters – my teammates.”
That passion for the game has not been lost on his teammates, who have voted Woodyard a captain for three straight seasons.
“Just from him being a captain for three years and only being in the league four, it shows the type of person and the type of player that he is,” fellow linebacker
“He's the ultimate team player; he goes out and plays hard every play,” Vaughn chimed in. “Not one single play have I ever seen him not go hard.”
LEADING THROUGH LAUGHTER
Fox described Woodyard as a “well-thought-of guy” in the locker room, and his teammates echoed that sentiment.
But it’s not just his leadership on the field that earned him his teammate’s respect -- one of the reasons is his sense of humor.
“He’s a jokester – having him in the equation, it just makes the whole team jell,” Mays said.
If there’s a lot of laughter in the locker room, chances are Woodyard is somehow involved. Whether he’s pranking teammates or just telling a good joke in the huddle to keep guys loose, it’s a trait that the linebacker and his teammates have come to appreciate.
In fact, when news got out that Woodyard would be featured on the cover of a Gameday program, no less than eight players made sure to rib the linebacker and return the favor to the team’s main source of comic relief.
Woodyard wouldn’t have it any other way.
“God gave me the gift to make people laugh and enjoy situations that we’re in,” Woodyard said, prompting a loud laugh from
But being a captain is more than just making people laugh for Woodyard. He makes sure his passion for the game “pours out of (his) pores” every single play, and he’s thankful his teammates have seen that in him.
He credits that leadership to his upbringing.
“I can remember my mom always telling me, ‘There are no quitters in this family. Stick in there when times get rough. You never give up,’” Woodyard said. “From time to time you have to look back on that. My family brought me up to always be a strong-minded person and just give your best at whatever you’re going to do.”