From LaGrange High to SEC Legend: Wesley Woodyard talks becoming an SEC Legend, his time at LaGrange High and more
Published 8:00 am Saturday, December 16, 2023
It has been a long and winding football journey for Wesley Woodyard, LaGrange High class of ‘04. On the Friday before the 2023 SEC Championship game, Woodyard was honored at a ceremony in Atlanta and crowned an SEC Legend.
“I was too excited man, I’ll say I was kind of feeling myself,” Woodyard said with a laugh.
Woodyard is a legend at the University of Kentucky. During his four seasons as a Wildcat, he led the team in tackles three seasons, and he finished with nearly 400 tackles for his career.
During his senior season, Woodyard led the SEC with 139 tackles.
“I set my sights out to be one of the baddest and I mean baddest players that ever stepped foot in the SEC,” Woodyard said. “That was my goal from day one, and I never wavered in pursuit of that goal.”
Woodyard proved he was one the baddest players in the SEC during his time at Kentucky. Twice he was named first-team All-SEC.
Lexington, Kentucky is a second home to Woodyard now, but it was almost not to be. He seriously weighed offers from South Carolina, Auburn and Arkansas… kind of.
“But back in the day, there was a thing called Mapquest, and we’ve printed out the Mapquest for Arkansas and it was 14 hours in like 20 pages deep and we were like we don’t think we are going to make it down there,” Woodyard said, chuckling.
Kentucky was the first SEC team to make him a real offer and Woodyard felt like they genuinely wanted him to come up there and lead the defense.
“I wanted to go somewhere walk in and make an immediate impact as a freshman and help change the program around,” Woodyard said. “It was like that first time that somebody has courted me, I’ve had a lot of people lie to me and tell me they wanted me where they didn’t want me.”
“I’ve been in a shade of blue ever since I was in middle school,” Woodyard said.
He wore blue at LaGrange High, blue at Kentucky and blue during his two NFL stops with the Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans. But his days of making plays in blue truly started with the Grangers.
“We kind of prided ourselves on being a family and sacrificing it and playing that Granger-style football,” Woodyard said. “I was happy to carry the torch and pass on that tradition.”
Woodyard made many iconic plays in Granger blue, but none of them will live on quite like his safety against Swainsboro in the AAA state quarterfinals in 2003, leading the team to a 2-0 victory in a state championship season.
He was named the Georgia Class AAA Defensive Player of the Year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was first-team all-state as a senior. During his four years at LaGrange High, the football team posted a 51–3 record and went on to win two state titles.
“I can say my top my time at LaGrange High was not just about football,” he said. “When I say Coach (Steve) Purdue taught us so many life lessons, he really challenged us to not only police ourselves inside the locker room but be leaders for the school as well.”
Woodyard left college thinking he was a sure-fire draft pick. He knew that his name would not be called in the first round but eagerly awaited his name to be called on day two or three back in the 2008 NFL Draft. The call never came and Woodyard went undrafted.
“We had everybody over for a draft party and after I wasn’t drafted, I escaped my family, I sit in the car, and I immediately just started crying,” Woodyard said. “I started praying to God, and I’m like ‘God, you just give me this opportunity and I promise I’ll be a light for your kingdom. I wiped my face got out of the car and got a phone call from Champ Kelly, and he told me to come out (to Denver) and show them what you got.”
The rest is history. Woodyard played 12 seasons in the NFL (six with Denver and six with Tennessee) where he made an instant impact. He started 110 games in his career and appeared in 180, playing the full 16-game season on six occasions, proving his Ironman status on the football field.
After a strong start to his career in Denver, Woodyard signed as a free agent in Tennesee. He quickly became a leader for the organization and helped the Titans end an eight-year drought to make the playoffs in 2017. He was also a part of the Titans team that made the AFC Championship game at the end of his final season in the NFL (2019).
“I got a little bit closer to my family, a little bit closer to the SEC and it was kind of like almost going back to Kentucky place in that it felt like a place with a lot of promise,” Woodyard said. “We ended up showing people that hey, when you come into Nashville, the Titans are gonna punch you in the mouth, and they’re gonna play some football.
I was excited to come down to Tennessee and play closer to home.”
Life Beyond His Playing Days
Woodyard’s work outside of the lines on the gridiron began long before he hung up the cleats following the 2019-2020 season. Woodyard was the Tennessee Titans Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2017 and has worked wonders through his 16Ways Foundation.
Woodyard officially called it a career after the 2019 season and find a new lease on life.
“I’m working with the NFLPA now. So that kind of keeps me around the game I love. I loved going out playing football, but it’s good to enjoy my kids, I get to be a coach and a father now,” Woodyard said.
As a player director for the NFLPA, Woodyard has not strayed far from the game of football. He was an elected representative his last eight years in the league, and it was a natural transition over to NFLPA.