Woodson, Charles

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Charles Woodson


American football player

The first primarily defensive player to win the coveted Heisman Trophy, Charles Woodson has never suffered from a lack of self-confidence. When pollsters seemed unable to agree on the national college champion after the 1998 bowl games, Woodson, whose brilliant defensive play had cemented the University of Michigan's 21-16 Rose Bowl victory over the Washington State Cougars, made it clear he harbored no such doubts. "National champs, no doubt," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "That's the way the whole team

feels. Nobody gave us a chance to be in the Rose Bowl. Everybody expected us to have another 8-4 season, but we all felt we could go undefeated. It was just a matter of going out and playing hard every week." Earlier in the same season, Woodson made it clear he had no doubts at all about his own ability. At a press conference before Michigan's game against Penn State, according to Sports Illustrated, Woodson told reporters: "Best player in the country standing before you." It might have been laughable had Woodson not proceeded to back up his boast with an amazing 37-yard touchdown reception to help lead Michigan to a lopsided 34-8 victory over the Nittany Lions.

Born in Fremont, Ohio

Charles Woodson was born in Fremont, Ohio, on October 7, 1976. The son of Solomon (an amateur boxer) and Georgia Woodson, he was born with clubbed feet and wore leg braces for a year beginning when he was six months old. When he was about 18 months old, the braces were replaced by corrective shoes, which he wore until he was four. His mother, who divorced her husband shortly after Charles's birth, later told the Los Angeles Times: "He didn't want to wear them. He fought it." His childhood health problems did nothing to impede Woodson's progress as an athlete. Introduced to football by his older half-brother, Terry Carter, he displayed a natural talent for the game, prompting his mother to send him to the local YMCA to play flag football.

By the time he entered Ross High School as a freshman, Woodson had honed his gridiron skills so well that coach Rex Radeloff wanted to play him on the varsity team. But Georgia Woodson put her foot down, declaring that her son was too young to play with the bigger boys. Never one to disobey his mother, Woodson played freshman ball. He joined the varsity team as a sophomore and won All-State honors for the next three years. As a senior, Woodson rushed for a school-record 2,028 yards on 218 carries and was named Ohio High School Player of the Year. Over his three years on the varsity team, he rushed for a total of 3,861 yards and 466 points.

Begins Playing Defense

While in high school, Woodson first began to play on defense, having previously focused on offense. "Once I started playing it, it just started growing on me," he later told the Los Angeles Times. "I liked it a lot. I think it's a lot more aggressive. You have 11 people running to the football, trying to get there at the same time. There's a big celebration after the hit. It's kind of hard to describe."

Woodson's impressive performance as a high school football player unleashed an avalanche of college offers from all over the country, but Woodson had always dreamed of playing for the University of Michigan, so his decision was easy. Only two weeks into football training camp at Michigan, Woodson had won the job of starting cornerback. In Michigan's big game against arch-rival Ohio State, freshman Woodson intercepted a pass from Buckeyes quarterback Bobby Hoying in the first play of the second half. Michigan took the ball and scored the go-ahead touchdown. Woodson repeated the feat during the final minutes of the game, helping to power Michigan to a 31-23 upset victory over the Buckeyes.


1976Born in Fremont, Ohio, on October 7
1992-94Plays on varsity football team at Ross High School
1995-98Plays football at University of Michigan
1998Makes professional football debut with Oakland Raiders

Before the start of his sophomore season, Woodson was approached by Michigan coach Lloyd Carr who asked if the player would consider playing on offense as well as defense. Woodson agreed to work out at wide receiver. Throughout his sophomore season, he ran about 10 plays each game on offense while holding on to his defense duties as cornerback. The crowning glory of Woodson's college football career came in his senior year, when Michigan ended the season undefeated and went on to defeat Washington State, 21-16, in the Rose Bowl. Woodson contributed some key plays toward the Wolverines' victory, intercepting an under thrown pass from the Cougars quarterback in the second quarter, and late in the game gaining some first downs that helped to clinch Michigan's victory. Both Michigan and Nebraska ended the season undefeated and were each touted as the national champion in different polls.

Wins Heisman Trophy

Only a couple of weeks before the Rose Bowl, Woodson made history when he became the first primarily defensive player to win college football's most prestigious award, the Heisman Trophy. It was a controversial decision, protested by some who felt that University of Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning was more deserving of the honor. Shortly after Michigan's Rose Bowl win, Woodson announced that he would forgo his senior year of college in order to be eligible for the 1998 National Football League (NFL) draft. He was picked fourth overall in the first round of the draft by the Oakland Raiders, becoming the seventh Heisman Trophy winner to play for the team. Others have included Marcus Allen, Tim Brown , Billy Cannon, Desmond Howard, Bo Jackson , and Jim Plunkett.

Woodson, who had signed a six-year, $20 million contract with the Raiders, enjoyed an outstanding rookie year in pro football, winning the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year Award at season's end. He finished the 1998 season with five interceptions and was named an alternative to the postseason Pro Bowl. Of Woodson, teammate Albert Lewis, a 16-year veteran cornerback, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "He's an outstanding athlete with ability and confidence, and he doesn't get rattled. Most guys don't come into this league looking as good as he does at that position, and he may be the best I've seen at his age. He'll experience some adversity, but for him to be playing at that level this early is a rare occurrence." Asked to grade himself on his rookie season, Woodson told the Dallas Morning News: "I'd give myself a B-minus. I played pretty good, but I didn't do a lot of the little things I could have done, as far as watching more film, doing a lot more studying. I pretty much played off athletic ability."

Early in the 2002 season, Woodson fractured his right shoulder in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. As a result he missed several games but was back in action later in the season. Commenting on the loss of Woodson to injury, coach Bill Callahan said, "He will be missed. It's a blow, because he's a four-time Pro Bowl player. When you a quality corner of Charles' caliber, who's played at an all-star level, that's hard to replace. It's something we have to overcome." With only five seasons under his belt, the final chapter to the story of Woodson's football career is unlikely to be written for another decade or so, barring serious injury. For now, he is doing what he loves.

Career Statistics

OAK: Oakland Raiders.

Awards and Accomplishments

1992-94Wins All-State honors at Ross High School
1994Named Ohio High School Player of the Year
1995Named Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Year
1997Named College Player of the Year by Sporting News
1997Wins Heisman Trophy
1998Named NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year


Address: c/o Oakland Raiders, 1220 Harbor Bay Pkwy., Alameda, CA 94502. Phone: (510) 864-5000.



"Charles Woodson." Sports Stars, Series 5. Detroit: UXL, 1999.


"For Heisman, Good Defense Beats Best Offense." USA Today (December 16, 1997): 14A.

Layden, Tim. "College Football: Double Threat Michigan's Charles Woodson Is a Dazzling Two-Way Player, and He's Not Alone in His Versatility." Sports Illustrated (November 18, 1996): 44.

Peterson, Anne M. "Raiders Sign Heisman Trophy Winner Charles Woodson." AP Online (July 21, 1998).

Rosenblatt, Richard. "Woodson Picks Off Heisman; Michigan Star First Defender to Win Award." Denver Rocky Mountain News (December 14, 1997): 1C.

"Woodson Shows Why He Won the Heisman Trophy." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (January 4, 1998): F1.


"Charles Woodson." Biography Resource Center On-line. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 1999.

"Lloyd Carr, Head Coach." Michigan Football. http://www.mgoblue.com/coach_bio.cfm?bio_id=299&section_id=257&top=2&level=3 (January 30, 2003).

"#24, Charles Woodson." ESPN.com. http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/players/stats?statsId=4271 (December 3, 2002).

Sketch by Don Amerman

Related Biography: Football Coach Lloyd Carr

An important influence on Woodson was University of Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. Together the two led the Michigan Wolverines to their first national championship in nearly half a century.

Carr, who was born in 1945, joined the Wolverine coaching staff in 1980 as defensive secondary coach to Bo Schembechler. Over the next 15 years he was promoted first to defensive coordinator and finally to assistant head coach under Gary Moeller from 1990 to 1994. On May 16, 1995, he was named interim head coach after Moeller resigned. In November 1995 the "interim" was removed, making him the 17th head football coach in the school's history. Carr led the Wolverines to victory in four straight bowl games from 1998 to 2001.

After three years at the University of Missouri, he earned his bachelor's degree from Northern Michigan University in 1968. Carr began his coaching career at Detroit's Nativity High School (1968-69). He next moved on to Belleville (Michigan) High School from 1970 to 1973 and John Glenn High School in Westland, Michigan, from 1973 to 1975. Carr's collegiate coaching career began with two seasons at Eastern Michigan University (1976-77), followed by two seasons at Illinois (1978-79).

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