Iowa linebacker coach LeVar Woods defied the odds by playing seven seasons in the NFL.
He did what thousands of kids from Iowa dream about doing by reaching the top of his sport, but only a handful see it come true.
Woods is now faced with trying to defy the odds again as an assistant coach for the Iowa football team. In addition to coaching Iowa’s outside linebackers, Woods also has the responsibility of recruiting in Texas and throughout the Atlanta area.
The former Hawkeye linebacker has the challenge of trying to convince star recruits that his alma mater is a better option than staying close to home and playing for one of the elite programs in Texas or for a school in the southeastern part of the country.
“It’s definitely a challenge because distance, for one,” Woods said at a Wednesday news conference that featured him and fellow linebacker coach Jim Reid. “Both of those areas are very, very, very heavily recruited. Every coach, every conference goes down there.
“It’s definitely difficult to recruit there, but it’s a great place to recruit, as well, because there are a lot of prospects and great programs, just like there are great programs here in Iowa. It’s just different trying to get kids to come up here and visit because of travel constraints.”
It makes sense that Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz would have Woods recruiting in areas where talent is plentiful, but so too is the demand for that talent.
Woods is still young enough at 36 that he can relate to today’s recruits. He also still looks like a football player with his sculpted frame and broad shoulders.
Combine that with his NFL background as a linebacker and Woods immediately has credibility on the recruiting trail. It won’t necessarily help him close deals, but it makes Iowa more appealing to a kid living in Texas or Atlanta.
“There is always a common connection with guys that have played in the NFL. It’s a fraternity a little bit,” Woods said. “They’ll put you on to a kid to look at and recruit.
“When you go into Atlanta and you go and recruit against the SEC and the ACC schools that are entrenched in there deep, it’s tough to recruit there. But, again, it’s still fun. Recruiting is fun.”
Woods began his news conference Wednesday by admitting he was nervous sitting in front of room full of reporters.
“I’m still brand new at this, so I’m obviously nervous or always nervous doing this,” said Woods, who is entering his third season as a full-time assistant coach.
Woods handled himself well, mixing in a little bit of humor with a lot of insightfulness. It’s easy to picture him making a strong impression while sitting in a recruit’s living room and promoting the University of Iowa.
Woods has certainly made a strong impression on his fellow linebacker coach at Iowa.
“Well, I can tell you that Coach Woods is far beyond his years in the coaching profession,” said the 63-year old Reid, who has coached for nearly four decades.
Reid, who isn’t bashful, raved about Ferentz being the dean of Big Ten football coaches and about Woods being one of the bright, young talents in the coaching profession. Reid described it as the ideal recruiting package.
“You can take any two coaches in the league and add them together and it won’t come up to 16,” Reid said of Ferentz entering his 16th season as the Iowa coach. “So there is a consistency of success here.
But the other thing I tell them, especially young linebackers, is that you come here and you’re going to be coached by an Iowa graduate who was not only a great player here, but also a great student here, and then played seven years in the NFL. Not two, not three, not one, seven years in the NFL. You have to have something about you to do that. So when you play in the NFL, let me tell you what, you’re being coached greatly by some of the great coaches in the profession. So every year you’re in there, you’re gaining great, great coaching experience as well as playing experience.”
Iowa needs for Woods to be an ace recruiter. There is only so much he and the other coaches can do to developing players. Recruiting, or the lack of it, ultimately determines the success of a coaching staff, perhaps more than anything else. It’s hard to find coaches at this level who don’t have a thorough understanding of the game.
Woods appreciates that Iowa is upgrading its facilities and taking a more creative approach to recruiting by sending out mail with artwork designed for a particular recruit. It’s important for Iowa to try different approaches in recruiting to compensate for the program’s built-in disadvantages, most notably Iowa’s small instate population.
“We want to get their attention, particularly. I recruit Texas and Atlanta, trying to get those kids’ attention and get them up here,” said Woods, an Inwood native who lettered at Iowa from 1998-2000. “As you guys all know in recruiting, once a kid gets here on campus, particularly if it’s a nice, sunny day, Iowa City is hard to beat. It really is.”
And though it helps as a recruiter to have an NFL background and shiny new facilities, winning helps even more. Winning is the best way for Iowa to a gain a recruit’s interest and for Woods to make a positive impression.
Last season was a step in the right direction as Iowa doubled its win total from the previous season, finishing 8-5 overall.
It’s also important for Iowa to be aggressive, because recruits have a tendency to admire the schools that recruit them first and recruit them the hardest.
We can assume that Woods is making early contacts with kids in Texas and Atlanta. Now the question is, can he make a strong enough impression to get them interested in being a Hawkeye?
It’ll be a long shot in many cases. But so was Woods’ chance of playing in the NFL.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football