Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson will lead the coaching staff in the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame Academy in Canton, Ohio, in July for high school and middle school players.
Woodson, now the assistant defensive backs coach of the Oakland Raiders, will be joined by former NFL head coach Sam Wyche and other former and current NFL assistants. Woodson will work with the defensive backs but is also expected to give presentations in the classroom on leadership and character.
Organizers are expecting 200-250 high school players and another 200-250 middle school players over four-day sessions in mid-July at the new Hall of Fame Village.
Before his college career at Purdue and 17 seasons in the NFL with four teams, Woodson played three sports at Snider High in Fort Wayne, Ind. He was named to the American Family Insurance ALL-USA football team as a senior on the inaugural team in 1982.
USA TODAY High School Sports spoke to Woodson about his involvement, what he’s hoping to teach and the trend of specialization for young athletes.
Q: Why did you want to be involved in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Academy and what are your goals for the camp?
A: “It’s football. Football is the best sport on this planet. Anything that Hall of Fame is getting into is worthy. The biggest thing in how we’re formatting this thing is for the kids to promote themselves. Colleges know who the five-star players and the four-star and blue chippers are. Sometimes there are guys left in between like my son. He’s a pretty good athlete, just coming out of a small school in California. Without him promoting himself at different camps, he wouldn’t have the chance to play at next level at Northern Arizona. He had to prove himself as worthy because he doesn’t fit the profile for most big-time colleges. A lot of kids in youth sports and in high schools might be out of the profile. We want to find those kids and have them come in and compete at the highest level.”
Q: What will be different about this camp from the other camps and clinics that are available to high school and college players?
A: “We’re taking the modern technology used in the NFL and college and bringing it to the kids, with elements like reaction testing so they can see how they stack up and the GPS system we use in the NFL. The difference in what we are doing is we can modernize the game of football and also get kids to believe in themselves, believe in their skill set and believe in who they are.
“The one thing that’s missing (in other camps) is that kids that fall out of the (typical recruiting) profile. … The best college players are sometimes the hidden jewels who develop a little bit behind in their first or second year in college. For us, we want to reach out to everybody, guys who believe in the system and believe in hard work.”
Q: Three-plus days on the field for 22 hours is a compressed amount of time to make an impact. How do you view what can done in such a short period?
A: “Each week in college football, college coaches get 20 hours with their players. We’re going to condense that into a three-day period. But we’re going to instill the same information that colleges are doing in week into three days. You want to plant a seed and that seed might not be planted in one setting. It could be by hearing the same things over and over and then the players go back and study who they are and what they were taught.”
Q: Following up on that, beyond the on-field instruction, the plan includes video breakdown and classroom work within the time allotted and then a curriculum to take home. Why is that piece significant?
A: “We’re trying to reach the players. Help on the field is why they are there, but when they leave, they always can go back to what they learned. This is part of their growth. You are trying to add on to maybe something that was left incomplete with the player.
“Sometimes we think vast periods of time are needed to influence people. Sometimes it might be one word, one paragraph, one skill, one drill to help influence a kid and continue his progressions in the right direction. That’s one of the things we can do.”
Q: Beyond your football success, you won state titles in the hurdles and were all-conference in basketball in high school. Given your background and with 90 percent of the NFL draft picks this year being multiple sport athletes in high school, I am guessing you are not in favor of specialization.
A: “I’m a fan of multiple sports. I was born and raised in Indiana and played three sports. It helped me fire different muscles and learn different things. What happens in high school is coaches get so greedy protecting their sport, and sometimes protecting your sport hinders the development of young athletes. They use that same muscle over and over, and while there is value in muscle memory, you get to fire different muscles in different sports.
“When they do solidify who they are and go to college, playing different sports (in high school) helps their growth because they have not peaked already. I’m a believer in playing multiple sports because it helps athletes in the long run.”