The theme with Saturday morning’s hires was former Hawkeye players. I went through the archives and found stories I wrote on LeVar Woods and Brian Ferentz during their playing days at Iowa.
This story is from 2000, Woods’ senior season at Iowa before he made it to the NFL for seven seasons.
IOWA CITY — He was 5 years old when his parents divorced, and he moved with his mom.
That, of course, changed the kid’s life.
For LeVar Woods, it was like driving a U-Haul to a new planet.
They wrote songs about his old hometown, Cleveland. You know, ‘Cleveland Rocks! But Larchwood? Larchwood, Iowa? Larchwood, what? Rolls?
“I don’t remember much about the move,” the University of Iowa linebacker said. “I know we were one of the only black families.
“It was different. I never really thought about it like that until I got to be about 17. It kind of hit me that, hey, I am the only black kid in school here. There are a couple other black families, but they were younger than me.
“It was different. But it was OK.”
Woods conquered the Larchwood world.
He rushed for 1,226 yards, scored eight touchdowns and made nine sacks during a senior season that netted him Class 2A player of the year at West Lyon High School.
All that, and he was homecoming king, too.
In the conference track meet his senior year, Woods ran in the 100-meter finals next to West Lyon teammate Kyle Vanden Bosch, now a standout defensive end at Nebraska, and Central Lyon’s R.J. Meyer, a linebacker at Iowa.
“There was no room for anyone else,” Central Lyon Coach Toby Lorenzen joked.
Throw in Central Lyon’s B.J. Van Briesen, who played at Iowa last year before leaving because of academic difficulties, and West Lyon’s Darin Naatjes, a wide receiver/baseball player at Stanford, you have to wonder if the cash crop in Lyon County isn’t Division I football players.
“That’s all there is to do – play sports, play football,” Woods said. “All the kids work their butt off.”
Nebraska called but never offered Woods a scholarship. He ended up at Iowa, in Iowa City. Another move to another planet.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” Woods said. “It took me a few months to get used to the fact that I had to lock my door. Growing up, I didn’t even have a key. We didn’t have a key to the house. We never locked it.
“It’s completely different in Iowa City. Even though it’s not a big city, it’s got a big city feel, especially when all the students are there.”
Last season, Woods made another move. He went from the anonymity of a role player to the spotlight of a starter.
“He’s a guy who comes to work everyday. Rain or snow, hot or cold, all that stuff,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He practices with pain, he plays with pain. He does everything you want a football player to do.”
Woods was solid, not spectacular. He was seventh on the team with 57 tackles and had just one sack.
Perhaps his biggest moment came in Iowa’s only win when he returned a blocked field goal for an 87-yard touchdown in Iowa’s 24-0 victory over Northern Illinois.
“I’m really hard on myself. I think last year I was competent,” Woods said. “I don’t think I really made as many plays as I did when I was a sophomore.
“Then, I just came off the bench and came in and went wild and did whatever. Now, it’s different. I have to tame down and make sure that I have all my responsibilities taken care of. It’s more of a responsibility. I’m the starter and I know I have to take care of everything.”
As he enters his senior season, Woods prepares for another move – the move to the world beyond college.
He’s getting married in May. He will pursue professional football. If that fizzles, he will look for a job as an elementary school teacher.
“I think kids are the most amazing things,” Woods said. “They see the world in a totally different light, but when you get down to their level and talk to them, you realize they see things the same as you.”
How does a 6-foot-3, 245-pound teacher/linebacker get down to an 11-year-old’s level?
“I get down on a knee,” he said.
Cue rim shot.
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