Eating W’s? How Cowboys DT Antwaun Woods developed from fringe NFL player to starter getting best of Jameis Winston

Eating W’s? How Cowboys DT Antwaun Woods developed from fringe NFL player to starter getting best of Jameis Winston

FRISCO, Texas – Antwaun Woods says the words rang in his ears anew every morning until training camp.

“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be on an NFL team right now,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli had explained in May. “Don’t eat yourself out of the NFL.”

Woods took the message to heart.

“Not embarrassed, because I don’t have sensitive feelings,” the Cowboys starting defensive tackle told USA TODAY Sports. “But I was like, ‘I can’t let that be the reason I’m not successful.’

“Hell no.”

So Woods stopped drinking and eating late. He repeatedly ran 100-meter sprints. He lost the roughly 30 pounds Marinelli requested he shed. He did so in the same way he’d attacked each step of his journey from the gang violence of his Los Angeles neighborhood to the charter school where he became an a high school All-American, to USC and then to the Titans’ practice squad, and ultimately the Cowboys' first-team defense.

He vowed to adapt.

“You can give him $2 and throw him in the middle of Nebraska,” Chris Rizzo, Woods’ high school defensive coordinator, told USA TODAY Sports. “I guarantee you he’d be home in two days and be just fine.”

Rizzo would know. He was tasked with molding the talented freshman he poached from JV practices during hell week, only to wonder why Woods, who describes himself as a knucklehead at the time, was hesitant to trust his coaches. Soon Rizzo learned of Woods’ hour-long commutes to school on L.A. metro buses from Baldwin Village, where he says he grew up street-fighting and affiliated with gangs. “One of the bad kids,” Woods said, until a close call with law enforcement left him determined to seek a different life.

He channeled that aggression into excelling as a four-year starter on Taft High School’s offensive and defensive lines. As a nose tackle, he regularly staved off doubles teams. At times, opponents sent their center and two guards his way without luck, says Matt Kerstetter, Taft’s former head coach.

But the teenager who won chess trophies at the park and disrupted team meetings yelling out defensive backs’ coverages before they could answer was academically disinterested. He arrived at his last semester of high school eight credits short of eligibility to be eligible for USC.

Woods piled two night classes atop six courses at Taft that spring, emerging with seven A’s and one B. Four years later, he earned his family’s first college degree. His dad, whom friends and family call Big Phil, said Woods’ bachelor’s in sociology meant “everything.”

“I was a success at something,” Woods' father said. “He’ll never have to fall victim to doing other things in life that can get you caught up. My son will never have to worry about what type of job he’s qualified for.”

But Woods still wondered: Could he prove he was qualified to be an NFL starter?

A futile draft in 2016 didn’t deliver the answer Woods sought. Despite starting four years and earning All-Pac-12 First-Team honors, he wasn’t selected. Woods signed with the Titans but said he didn’t fit well in their 3-4 scheme. He played just 17 snaps in one game through two seasons.

Even that lone appearance was fueled in part, his agent told him, by the Cowboys trying to claim him off Tennessee’s practice squad ahead of a 2016 playoff run. Marinelli says he had Woods on his radar for years thanks to Orgeron.

When the Titans cut Woods in May, Marinelli called.

By Aug. 4 at training camp, Woods was making waves.

He exploded so quickly off the line in a one-on-one drill against Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick that both tumbled to the ground. Frederick regained his footing and hovered over Woods with a retort. Woods retaliated with punches. Teammates rushed in to the fray.

Source: Read Full Article