LeVar Woods is Giving Back
One of the things I have most enjoyed in my 11 years of covering Iowa Hawkeye football has been the numerous ‘small town’ stories that have been such a part of the fabric of the program.
Those stories have been a part of Iowa football for much longer that and most Hawkeye fans can either cite them song and verse or hail from a small town that has produced at least one Hawkeye they claim as their own.
LeVar Woods is one of those stories.
He played for the Hawkeyes under Coach Hayden Fry as well as Coach Kirk Ferentz. He was one of the top performers in Class 2A during his senior season at West Lyon, a small school in Northwest Iowa. He is now a member of the Iowa coaching staff after a seven year NFL career.
Woods and Kyle Vanden Bosch (a fellow West Lyon alumnus and former Nebraska All American and currently a member of the Detroit Lions) will put on their 15th football clinic this year at their old high school and Woods will hold his second annual LeVar Woods Football Academy in late June in Okoboji, right in his old backyard.
Woods says it’s a part of the state that sometimes feels overlooked.
“When people ask me why I am doing this in Northwest Iowa and why not Des Moines or in Eastern Iowa, I always tell people I take pride having grown up in the Midwest and a lot of pride growing up in the state of Iowa and particularly a small town in rural Northwest Iowa,” said Woods. “I try to do as much as I can to give back there. This is my way of giving back and helping give kids the opportunity to achieve some of the dreams they have which are similar to what I dreamed about when I was young.”
Many of you reading this can relate to that ‘small town effect’, where people don’t feel like they have as many opportunities to shine or stand out due to coming from a place where…well, where not many people live. When you have dreams of playing big time football, that effect can be chilling and Woods feels like he can help overcome those traditional psychological stumbling blocks for would be football players.
“There weren’t a lot of opportunities to receive elite instruction or things that I thought would help put me in a better position (when I was growing up),” Woods said. “They were available, but hard to get to. You had to drive a great distance to do it. I also felt like without that level of training and teaching that I would not have the chance to go to college and play football.”
Woods got that chance, given to him by Hayden Fry. He played on the 1997 & 1998 Fry teams, his final two as the Head Hawk. He then played two years under Kirk Ferentz, years where Iowa won a combined four games with Woods turning in the biggest highlight of the one-win 1999 season when he scooped up a blocked field goal and rumbled 87 yards for a score against Northern Illinois.
“Looking back on Coach Ferentz’s tenure, those first few years are not things people talk about all that often. One thing Coach Ferentz will tell you is that those years were critical in laying the foundation for the program to where it is right now. At the time it was very hard to go through, as a junior and senior. Those are your years when you believe you can take the Hawks to the Rose Bowl, when you are growing up.” Woods said.
“All of the sudden you meet adversity and you win one game your junior year and fight your tail off to win three games your senior year. I learned far more about life from those years. Getting back up when you get knocked down and coming back to work the next Tuesday to do it again not knowing when you are going to win again. In life and in football, those things make you great; getting up and dusting yourself off and coming back again not knowing whether or not you will have success.”
Woods was an undrafted free agent in 2001 and landed with the Arizona Cardinals. He would eventually play for four NFL teams and stuck in the league seven years. Even though his Iowa playing days were over, he still watched the progress, believing it was just a matter of time before Iowa turned the corner.
“When I left the program and as much as I loved Coach Fry and the time I spent with him, I would have loved to have had the opportunity to work with Coach Doyle for three more years and three more years with Coach Ferentz as a player. You could tell during those years, even though we were getting our butts kicked, that the program would turn the corner and take off.”
“Watching from afar, I had so much pride in what the guys did and the staff did and how they built the program. That first Orange Bowl in 2003, I don’t think I have ever been more happy even though I was not playing with them; I was so proud to be a Hawkeye. That year was magical. Then being able to come back and work with the coaches and be around the players and see how far the program has come is crazy.”
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“It’s very inspiring working with Coach Ferentz on a daily basis as well as the entire staff, because you see how much work they put in. As a player you don’t know how much work goes into it, what the coaches do to try to make a player successful on the field and in the classroom. But being a part of that and finding different ways to teach kids about life, how to achieve success in the classroom and then on the field, that is something I take a lot of pride in and it has been a great experience.”
Woods is taking all of his life experiences, his success on the field at the high school, college and NFL levels as well as his experience as a member of the Iowa coach staff and is now passing it all along to the next generations of high school football players in the state of Iowa as well as the region.
The LeVar Woods Football Academy will take place in late June in Okoboji, and will also feature a 7 on 7 camp where the Top 100 teams from the Midwest have been invited, however just 30 teams will be accepted. It’s open to all teams, in case you are affiliated with one and wish to inquire.
There is then the separate Three Day Skills Academy with several noteworthy coaches and teachers; Iowa assistants Reese Morgan and Darrell Wilson, former Hawkeyes Nate Kaeding, Matt Kroul, Tony Moeaki, Ricky Stanzi, AJ Edds and many more. Kyle Vanden Bosch will also be there teaching the kids. To see the entire staff roster, click on this link.
Woods feels his skills academy is unique in all the nation and offers a wide array of teaching opportunities for aspiring football players.
“Football is fun and this camp is fun, but having fun isn’t enough; if you don’t learn anything, it was a failure. I want the kids to learn what it really takes to go through the process. When you look at the staff members, when you come to the LeVar Woods Football Academy, it will be fun and there will be a lot of energy, but you will be working your butt off.”
“It’s not an autograph camp, where you look around at other camps and see names as a celebrity coach. that is not what we are about. A guy like Vanden Bosch, a two time all pro, three time pro bowl selection, he will be coaching your butt off. He is not there just to sign autographs, he is there to teach you what he knows; the techniques that can help you get over the edge and get a scholarship like he did at Nebraska and went on to become an academic all American and make it to the NFL. There is a recipe to it and each person on the staff brings that. The other thing I hope they take away is that to play football at a high level is not easy. There are a lot of things that go into it and it’s just not about showing up.”
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For more information on this camp, please click on this link and/or email email@example.com.
Read more of my conversation with LeVar Woods below.
Why did you start the LWFA? How did you get the idea to do this?
Woods: “The idea really came from being a kid growing up in northwest Iowa. There weren’t a lot of opportunities to receive elite instruction or things that I thought would help put me in a better position. They were available, but it was hard to get to. You had to drive a great distance to do it. I also felt like without that level of training and teaching that I would not have the chance to go to college and play football. When people ask me why I am doing this and doing in Northwest Iowa and why not Des Moines or in Eastern Iowa, I always tell people I take pride having grown up in the Midwest and a lot of pride growing up in the state of Iowa and particularly a small town in rural Northwest Iowa. I try to do as much as I can to give back there. I had a football camp with my high school coach and one of my high school teammates Kyle Vanden Bosch and this next year will be the 15th year we do that for elementary kids. This is my way of giving back and helping give kids the opportunity to achieve some of the dreams they have which are similar to what I dreamed about when I was young.”
Q: I have had people tell me that come from NW Iowa, they sometimes feel forgotten…does that play into this, so people feel like they have an opportunity like other areas of the state?
Woods: Without a doubt and that is a good point about being forgotten. I think that is something a lot of people from Northwest Iowa think. I am from as far Northwest Iowa as you can possibly be and the next closest thing is a town in South Dakota. I do think people there take a sense of pride from being from Northwest Iowa and that carries over.
You can look back through the years…when I was being recruited it was before the Internet was big, it took a lot for a coach from say the University of Iowa to come up to Northwest Iowa and West Lyon HIgh School to find me. I tell people all of the time that had there not been me, Kyle Vandenbosh, Luke Vandersanden and Darin Naajtes, four guys in consecutive years that had the talent to play Division 1 athletics, if it was just one of us, the other three might not have been found due to the challenges to get there. If a coach is willing to go and drive six hours to that area, there needs to be more than just one potential prospect. Our high school team was also really good and we went to the state championship, so that helped. In the state of Iowa and the Midwest in general, you have to be on a really good team or there has to be something that draws the attention and recruiters to you. The Internet has helped that out; there are not secrets in recruiting due to the Internet. But 15 years ago, it wasn’t like that. Having said that, when you are from a small town or an area that might be off the beaten path, you need every edge you can get.”
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Q: In looking at the names of some of the staff members that will be at your academy camp, like Bruce Nelson, Matt Bowen, yourself, Matt Kroul, these were not necessarily household names…you were an undrafted free agent…your life story is that of an underdog who overcame adversity, stuck in the NFL for 7 years…do you find that resonates with kids and draws them to what you have to teach?
Woods: That is a good point. Everyone on the staff list for the LWFA, they were hand selected based on certain criteria. The first is they have to have a great passion for young people and a great passion for teaching the sport of football to young people. Another is they had to have great success as a player or a coach and some have had success in both areas. Third, the part you brought up, every person you look at has overcome some sort of obstacle to achieve their success; it hasn’t been easy for any of the guys on there. That is what I want kids to see. It doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t just wake up and be the next great running back or defensive end. It’s important for kids to know that. If you look at the guys on that list, they have all overcome things, they have been unheralded coming in for the most part and they have also done what it takes to achieve success, which is hard work, determination and doing the little things every day. Kids need to see that. The people that will be here are living and breathing examples of all of those things and I want to convey that.”
Q: When these kids are done, what are they going to take away and be talking about to their parents or guardians?
Woods: Last year, one of the first things people said was how much fun they had. Football is fun, but having fun isn’t enough; if you don’t learn anything, it was a failure. I want the kids to learn what it really takes to go through the process. When you look at the staff members, when you come to the LWFA, it will be fun and there will be a lot of energy, but you will be working your butt off. It’s not an autograph camp, where you look around at other camps and see names as a celebrity coach. that is not what we are about. A guy like Vanden Bosch, two time all pro, three time pro bowl selection, he will be coaching your butt off. He is not there just to sign autographs, he is there to teach you what he knows; the techniques that can help you get over the edge and get a scholarship like he did at Nebraska and went on to become an academic all American and make it to the NFL. There is a recipe to it and each person on the staff brings that. The other thing I hope they take away is that to play football at a high level is not easy. There are a lot of things that go into it and it’s just not about showing up.
Q: About the recipe to get a chance at the next level; how does participating in an academy like this…does it help people get on the radar more? Every edge has to help…what kind of edge does this give to the participant?
Woods: First and foremost, all of the coaches that are there are teachers first. Kids are going to be taught drills techniques that are used at every level of football; from the age of 7 at the peewee level or 37 in the NFL. This academy is different than any other in the nation. You will get elite instruction, education about the recruiting process if you are a high school aged student and you will get that by the coaches that actually do the recruiting, which is unique. It’s valuable to know what a coach is looking for, and to hear that from an actual coach and not a recruiting service. You get exposure from those coaches that are teaching you that you may want to attend. Not every kid can play at Iowa or Nebraska or other schools, but there are a lot of colleges out there. One of the keys is to find the fit that works for you and what will help you achieve your goals. Most kids want to play in the NFL. If you want that, you have to find a school that will best help you achieve that goal. That is from the playing side, and not the education side. What is the best place that will put me in a position to succeed? Whether its NAIA or a BCS school. This is the only camp in the nation that provides leadership training, team building, character building, team bonding experiences if you come with your team all rolled in with the summer camp experience. This is a very unique setting where you can achieve all of those things.
Q: Leadership training…I have heard Kirk Ferentz talk about the intangibles of his recruiting classes through the years…captain, academic, mutlti-sport athletes…other areas where they showed leadership. Obviously you can see the tangibles on film…how important are the intangibles going into the recruitment process and that is something you spend time on?
Woods: From the collegiate level, I can only speak to what the University of Iowa does…but we place a lot of value on those things in recruiting. Those things will show up. It’s the same in the NFL…the NFL loves versatile players that are willing to do whatever it takes for the team and if they are capable of doing whatever it takes for their team. You also get into being a captain..guys that exude leadership, maybe not always vocally but through their daily actions. That is powerful leadership. The guy that does things steady every day will eventually wear out the guy that does it every once in a while. If you try to follow guys that are just vocal and don’t always lead by example, that will not work out. You have to do it right every day and he will eventually be the guy on top as a leader. That is something we look for in recruiting at Iowa, and it’s also something that coaches look for in general.
Q: Talk about the 7 on 7 component of your camp.
Woods: 7 on 7 is big around the country but has not caught on as much in the Midwest. It’s a very valuable evaluation tool for coaches because it allows a coach to see them in competition. Sometimes kids do workouts and go to combines and run a 40 or whatever. A kid who has been running a 4.6 his whole life but then he has a bad day at the combine and runs a 4.8, that 4.8 time sticks with you for the rest of your recruitment. Every kid loves 7 on 7, even linemen. It’s a fun way to play football but it’s also a great opportunity for kids to showcase their talents in front of college coaches. We have invited the Top 100 teams from a seven state area, but it’s open to anyone. Only 30 teams get into the tournament. It will be great competition and great instruction from the coaches, the leadership training and that team bonding. There is nothing like going on a trip with your team and staying together…you get so much bonding experience from that plus a featured speaker to talk to the kids the night before.