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December 7, 2011
Every top program in the nation is constantly on the lookout for the mythical shutdown cornerback. Junior Eli Woodard of Voorhees (N.J.) Eastern is hoping to fill that void for one of these programs, but aside from his football playing skills, he will also bring a wealth of maturity and life experience to the table.
Woodard began playing football in the sixth grade, but he had already led a very interesting life before that point.
"I was born in Philly, lived in Ghana for two years, then Brooklyn, Philly for a year, then I got to Voorhees in the fourth grade, and I've been there ever since," said Woodard. "My mom is from Ghana and she is a TV producer so we moved around a bit."
While he may not personally remember too much about his time in Ghana, his family has a long history in the West African country.
"I believe I was there when I was from 3 to 5 years old," said Woodard. "My grandma is the leader in the town of Ashama and runs a church that takes care of a lot of children from the village. She travels between here and Ashama. She happens to be here now and will spend a month, then go back, and be back when it warms up again for another month or so."
After spending years on the road, Woodard explained why his family finally settled down in Voorhees, New Jersey.
"My mother worked in TV news for years at NBC and CNN and now her and my dad run their own company that does film, TV and documentaries," said Woodard.
With his life finally solidified in South Jersey, Woodard began to take interest in sports.
"My brother is the reason I started playing football," said Woodard. "We're on the same team and this is his last year since he's a senior. I used to be big into basketball and would go to his practices and games, and I said I could do that."
After his sophomore season, Woodard began to work hard in the offseason and then decided to attend several camps. What resulted from these camps were offers from Notre Dame, Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers. These four offers were recently joined by additional offers from Alabama and Wisconsin while schools like Maryland, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Nebraska and others have also offered.
"It's nice and it's really what I think everyone works for," said Woodard. "It takes a lot of work to make that happen, because there is a ton of talent out there. I can think of a handful of guys that I know should have offers and don't for whatever reason. But now that I have the offers that I have, it takes even more work to maintain everything."
With all of this sudden recruiting success also comes the pressure of stepping on the field this fall and knowing that he has a huge bullseye on his back.
"I know that there were a lot of people looking at me and that in some cases I am sure I came up in the motivational talks during another team's practice during the week," said Woodard. "Guys want to make plays and especially against me, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. That's the game, that's football. They quickly find out that I worked for my offers. I went against some of the best in the offseason. I went against at least 80 D-I wide receivers in 7-on-7s or camps. The wide receivers at the Ohio State camp alone were off the charts. From 5-foot-8 guys to 6-foot-6 guys from New Jersey to California, I have guarded them all. So anything a wide receiver is going to try on me, I'm ready."
Playing on the gridiron, Woodard has sought out a few role models, including LaDanian Tomlinson.
"I believe he has done it right on and off the field," said Woodard. "I would like to get a chance to meet him and just hear what he has to say about college and life."
Being a cornerback, Woodard also looks up to a few players at his position.
"I pick up bits and pieces from a lot of guys I watch tape on," said Woodard. "(Darrelle) Revis, (Antonio) Cromartie, Malcolm Jenkins, Nhamdi (Asomugha), I see how they react to different things. A bunch of guys in college too, particularly my friend and mentor Logan Ryan, who plays for Rutgers and went to the same high school."
Woodard spent the majority of the summer on the road this year, but hopes to slow down his schedule in the future.
"My road travel is done for the most part," said Woodard. "I want to do a few major 7-on-7s, maybe the Nike Camp this spring and I might hit a school or two that I am very interested in if I haven't committed anywhere yet, but I plan on being done and focused on the future sooner than later."
With Woodard hoping to not drag out his recruiting process, he gave some more insight on where his recruiting process currently stands.
"I like the offers that I have and certainly am open to a few others, but I am certainly looking to be 100-percent done before my senior season starts," said Woodard. "It's no secret that I like Ohio State but all the schools that are the first to offer me, including 'Bama, all have my close attention."
Despite the recent NCAA troubles at Ohio State, the long standing relationship Woodard has with the school has made them the school to beat.
"I have known and been around Coach (Jim) Tressel and Coach (Darrell) Hazel since the summer of my seventh grade year, and it's just been a natural progression over the years," said Woodard. "I went the summer after my freshman year and tore it up, but then this year with Coach Tressel and Coach Hazel not there anymore, I felt like I had to do it all over again. I tore it up again and I know I can play at that level no problem."
Woodard is also not blind to the swirling NCAA allegations, but he remains hopeful.
"I think it's unfortunate and I believe Ohio State has stood up and handled their business in terms of what they have had to deal with," said Woodard. "They should be allowed to move on and get back to football."
With the hire of Urban Meyer, has that helped make Woodard feel better about Ohio State?
"It makes me feel more comfortable because I know they have a great coach now," he said. "There was a lot of uncertainty before he was hired and there still is with the NCAA and all that, but it doesn't change what Ohio State is."
Throughout the process, Woodard has had the ability to turn to a few people for advice and guidance.
"My dad really stays on top of things and has kept me out in front of the process, and the Ryan family and the Webb's, we all look out for each other," said Woodard, referring to the family of Logan Ryan and close friend Greg Webb.
When times do get hectic and strenuous, Woodard does turn to another place to clear his mind.
"A big thing that I do is that I am a volunteer at the Voorhees Pediatric Center and have been since my freshman year," said Woodard. "I spend every weekend there and have built up some nice friendships, especially with a boy named Ashawn, who is the biggest sports fan in the world. I have a schedule and I am assigned to three kids that I stay with and read to, talk with and clean up their room. Then I go to the general play room and do the same with a bunch of kids"
While there are numerous children at the facility, ranging from infants to 18-year olds, Woodard has developed his deepest bond with Ashawn.
"I like playing football with him," said Ashwan, who was more than willing to discuss his friendship with Eli. "We always have fun playing catch."
Over the course of the last three years, the Director of the Volunteering Program, Rose Lynch, has noticed the connection that Woodard has with the children.
"I was taken back to find that Eli was such a talented athlete," said Mrs. Lynch. "He has never bragged or boasted about his achievements. When volunteering he is always polite and very respectful to the staff. When he interacts with the children he is always patient and compassionate. Who knew he was such a silent warrior?"
Woodard explained what led him to the Pediatric Center in the first place.
"My mom and dad wanted me to be involved with something while in high school," said Woodard. "I remember my dad and I went to the facility to take a tour and him asking me if I was sure that I wanted to do this. I said that this is exactly what I want to do."
Eli's father, Timothy Apple, remembers that day.
"The center is essentially across the street from the high school and since you can't really get a job until you're 16 or sometimes even 18 here in New Jersey, we wanted Eli to do something," he said. "But when we went there, it is one of the more hardcore pediatric centers in the country, there are a lot of sick children there and many of them are required to use some heavy equipment to stay alive, so it's a rather serious environment. I was worried it would be too much for him so I asked him afterwards and he said there's no place he'd rather be. That was something special and shows how much more he is than just an athlete."
As Mrs. Lynch mentioned, Woodard was not quick to bring up his athletic exploits.
"They never knew anything about me and football until last month," said Woodard. "I tend to keep things quiet and I am not there for myself. I am there to help and be a part of things."
So now, as Woodard juggles football, schoolwork, volunteering duties and his social life, he has also matured very quickly. This maturation should make it easier for him when it comes time to choose what school he will be roaming the secondary for in the coming years.
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