Little big man
Chadron State's Woodhead on verge of rushing record
Posted: Thursday September 27, 2007 4:15PM; Updated: Friday September 28, 2007 7:02PM
The biggest attractions in Chadron, Neb., used to be the annual "Fur Trade Days" -- which honors the town's past as a fur and hide trading post -- and a parade of worn-down, beat-up pickups called the "Ugly Truck" contest. But Danny Woodhead has changed that.
The northwestern Nebraska town of 5,364 and the campus of Division II Chadron State are in the national spotlight as an undersized senior running back stands on the cusp of becoming the most productive runner in college football history.
"It's not something that this town is really accustomed to -- or our team," Woodhead said.
The attention has continued to steadily grow as Woodhead closes in on R.J. Bowers' (D-III Grove City) all-division record of 7,353 career rushing yards. But with history just 288 yards away, Woodhead stays as unassuming as the one-stoplight town which he has called home while amassing 7,066 yards.
"For me, it's not something I try to look into too much," he said. "I guess I've kind of been a team guy first and I don't want something like this to change that."
The only topic of conversation among the fourth-ranked Eagles (4-0) is winning football games. Talk of statistics and records have no place in team meetings or on the practice field.
"There's really no mention of it," Chadron State coach Bill O'Boyle said. "Everybody thinks I'm kidding them about that but there's no mention of the records or anything else. These guys are pretty focused."
It's not as if the Eagles haven't dealt with Woodhead being in the collective college football sun before. Last season he became the first player to run for more than 2,700 yards -- despite not playing in the second half of three games. The 5-foot-9, 200-pounder who has run a 4.43 40 possesses the shiftiness and speed that has his coach comparing him to another undersized back.
"The way he runs, it's a lot like Barry Sanders. That's as close as I can explain it," O'Boyle said. "He has that type of vision. What separates him is that he moves just as fast laterally as he does when he gets downhill."
Woodhead's career has taken flight in a town more than 100 miles away from a major airport, but growing up a rabid Cornhuskers fan in North Platte, Neb., his dream was to take the field in Memorial Stadium. He attended Nebraska's summer football camp prior to his senior year and spoke with then-Cornhuskers coach Frank Solich. His size was a question and Solich suggested Woodhead consider walking on as a kick returner.
"I kind of knew I wouldn't get a scholarship to be a returner and I didn't really want to do that either," Woodhead said. "That would be kind of tough on me, I always want to be in the game."
Woodhead went on to be named state player of the year as a senior, leading Class A (Nebraska's largest division) with 2,037 yards and 31 touchdowns. He set a slew of state records, seven of which still stand, but no Division I offers or even an invitation for an official visit, came.
"It was a little bit frustrating at first. I was hoping to get a shot and it didn't happen," he said. "I didn't get a D-I shot. It was a little tough at the time."