• 73°

Woodyard rose to the occasion

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

The LaGrange Grangers scored zero offensive points in a playoff game against Swainsboro during the 2003 state playoffs, but they won.

It helped that the Grangers had a lock-down, dominant defense led by senior Wesley Woodyard, who has played in the NFL for 12 seasons.

Woodyard had a spectacular senior season, and his shining moment came in that Swainsboro game when he made arguably the biggest play of the year.

In the first half of a game where points were clearly going to be hard to come by, Woodyard swarmed into the backfield and tackled Swainsboro running back Albert Webb for a safety.

Those two points, it turns out, were the only ones scored in the game as LaGrange escaped with a 2-0 victory in a third-round showdown.

LaGrange went on to win the state championship, and Woodyard was named the Class AAAA defensive player of the year.

During an interview on the Jim Rome show last week, Woodyard recalled that memorable game, and how confident he and his teammates on the defensive side of the ball were.

“Defense, we used to always say, if they don’t score, they don’t win,” Woodyard said. “So let’s go score.”

As for the safety, Woodyard said “I remember that play. Me and my boy Braxton Kelley, who went on to play with me at the University of Kentucky and also in Denver as well, we were both on the left side. He got the double team, and the blockers ran right past me and I was able to cause a little havoc on the running back and pound him in the backfield for the (tackle for loss) and the safety. Those were the only points scored in that game, and it was very exciting to be the one to get those points on the board for my teammates, and of course that game helped us go on to win a state championship.”

Making plays was something Woodyard did throughout his senior season when he scored four defensive touchdowns and had that memorable safety.

“I’ve been telling people I’ve been making plays since I was 6-years-old, since I first picked up the rock,” Woodyard said. “I’ve been out there smashing people, laying the wood down, and living up to my last name. It felt great that my teammates always depended on me in that situation.”

Steve Pardue was Woodyard’s head coach during his time at LaGrange, and he recalls a player who was willing to do whatever was necessary to help the team.

“He played some special teams for us, he played some offense when we needed him,” Pardue said. “He just wore so many hats for us.”

Pardue also said Woodyard is player who took great joy when his teammates succeeded, and he remembers an example of that during a game against Cartersville in 2003.

“Tray (Blackmon) just crushed the guy,” Pardue said. “Wesley about had an out of body experience. He wouldn’t have been any more excited if he’d made the big play. He’s a team-first guy.”

Donnie Branch, LaGrange’s long-time defensive coordinator, put a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of Woodyard.

“You could be good on defense, but for us to be great, our outside linebacker had to be really, really good,” Branch said. “That ‘03 bunch, we had him at outside linebacker. We did things with him that we didn’t do before or after, because he could do ‘em. That ’03 bunch, they kind of over-achieved a little bit. He was the most important piece. He just always made plays.”

No player was more important than the one Woodyard made against Swainsboro.

“I was talking to (Pardue), and he used to always say whenever the game would get dry and stale, it was time for Wood to make a play, and in that moment I made a play for my teammates go to ahead and seal that victory,” Woodyard said.