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Special relationship for Jones, Woodard

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily

tice field at Callaway Middle School, and it was solidified on the road as they traveled from college to college for recruiting journeys across the Southeast.

Keiondre Jones arrived at Callaway Middle as a sixth-grader, and he began playing football for the school a year later.

The man who guided Jones, who helped teach him about football and so much more, was Kerry Woodard.

The two got to know each other when Jones was a sixth-grader and unable to yet play for the middle-school team.

“He was mad he couldn’t play football in the sixth grade,” Woodard recalls. “As big as he was he could have, but Troup County won’t let sixth-graders play, just because they don’t want eighth-graders hitting a sixth-grader.”

If there was a sixth-grader capable of handling that, it would have been Jones, who towered above his classmates.

Jones got a chance to put on the shoulder pads and begin playing as a seventh-grader, and for two years he anchored the offensive line for a Callaway Middle team that won a bunch of games.

During those years, while Jones was beginning to receive major-college offers even though he hadn’t yet arrived in high school, he and Woodard grew close.

It’s a relationship that goes beyond that of a coach and a player.

Woodard was, and remains, so much more than a coach to Jones, who went on to start for four seasons at Callaway and will be a freshman on the Auburn University football team this fall.

“He means the world to me,” Jones said of Woodard. “He knows that. My family knows that. Everybody that knows me knows that. I’ve been calling him pops since the seventh or eighth grade.”

This week, Jones has been helping out “pops” during practice at Callaway Middle.

On Wednesday morning, Jones was out there on the soggy grass, working with the middle-school players, showing them proper technique and encouraging them.

Woodard wanted Jones there not only to share his knowledge, but to show the young players what they can accomplish, on the field and off.

“I’m more proud of him than anybody in the world,” Woodard said. “He couldn’t have easily gone the other way. I give his momma (Antrenise Broughton) all the credit. He was that kid before he met me. I didn’t have anything to do with that.”

When Jones’ time in middle school was over, he stepped into the lineup on day one at Callaway High.

Jones started every game for four seasons at Callaway, and he garnered an impressive array of individual accomplishments while enjoying plenty of team success as well.

Over the past four years, the Cavaliers were 45-8, and they made it to the state semifinals in 2016 and 2018.

Through it all, the friendship between Jones and Woodard grew stronger, and the two of them took numerous recruiting trips together, including a handful to Auburn, which eventually won the recruiting battle.

“Coach Woodard was there for me before football was even a question,” Jones said. “He’s been there for me since the sixth grade. He took me under his wing. That was before football. I wasn’t even thinking about football. He wanted to make sure that I was good, that my momma was good. He always stayed on my tail and made sure I was straight. I appreciated that from him.”

Woodard got to know Jones when he was a sixth grader, fresh out of elementary school.

“He wanted to meet me, because Robyn McCann (at Callaway Elementary School) told him everything about me,” Woodard said. “She told him that I’d take care of him. We hit it off the first day.”

While Jones had a loving and supportive mother in Antrenise Broughton, he didn’t have a father in his house.

Jones’ mother felt it was important for him to have positive male role models, and Woodard clearly fit that bill.

“My mom did everything she could,” Jones said. “She said I can’t teach you how to be a man. That’s one thing she instilled in me. She made sure I had men around me.”

Another one of the men who helped lead Jones was Pete Wiggins, who is heading into his 15th season as Callaway’s head coach. Wiggins recalls his initial meeting with Jones, who even as a middle-schooler had an imposing shoe size.

“Coach Woodard and KJ have always had a close relationship,” Wiggins said. “I remember early on when I first met KJ. Coach Woodard had called and told me to come over to the middle school. I remember walking out to the parking lot and KJ standing beside me. Seeing that big old size 17 shoe way back in the seventh grade was impressive.”

Even before Jones left Callaway Middle he had already received numerous college offers.

As Jones got older the attention from colleges naturally increased, and Wiggins is grateful that he always had coach Woodard there to support him.

“From the early years with KJ’s athletic ability and size, there was always great attention from colleges, and coach Woodard was an excellent mentor,” Wiggins said. “He carried KJ on a lot of recruiting trips, and spent a lot of time with him. They’ve always had a special bond, and over the years as KJ received many accolades, coach Woodard was always included. He was always invited to many of the celebrations for the awards that KJ received. So there’s a great respect between the two of them, and there’s also a great friendship between the two of them.”

One of the reasons Jones chose Auburn was so all of those close to him, including Woodard, would be able to see him play.

Woodard plans on being at as many of Auburn’s games as possible, and he’ll even cheer for Jones, even though he’s a life-long Alabama fan.

“He’s special to me. He always has been,” Woodard said.

Wiggins is glad to have men like Woodard and Jones associated with the Callaway football family.

“Guys like that are the anchors of Callaway football,” Wiggins said. “They’re very special people to me, and I know they care about each other tremendously.”

Jones is hopeful his family and friends will be able to see him on the field this season.

“I want to play,” Jones said. “That’s my plan.”

For better or worse, Jones knows he has a strong support system filled with people who will be there for him.

That includes Woodard and Wiggins, as well as a mother who has offered unwavering support throughout his life.

“The stuff she’s done for me, I can’t even explain it in words,” Jones said. “She knows how I feel. That’s my queen.”

Auburn opens its season on Aug. 31 at Oregon.