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Zopf: Unheard of back deserves a chance

POSTED: May 9, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Poor Danny Woodhead.

Midway through hour No. 20 of what seemed like endless coverage of the 2008 NFL Draft on ESPN, the cameras cut to the senior running back from Chadron State at his home in Nebraska.

Like the rest of the country, I had never heard of Woodhead prior to his interview with the 10 members of ESPN’s draft day coverage, but from what I saw and heard in the five minutes or so that the young man was on TV, I was impressed.

And so were those 10 analysts.

For those of you that may not have been watching, here’s the deal with Woodhead.

He’s 5-foot-9, 200 pounds and rushed for almost 8,000 yards in his four-year career at Division II Chadron State, whose most famous graduate is former Buffalo Bills receiver Don Beebe. Along with that, Woodhead also holds the NCAA record for rushing yards in a single season (2,756 yards in 2006) and career (7,962). Oh, and he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds and has a vertical leap of 38-inches.

When talking to the crew on scene at Radio City Music Hall, Woodhead had all the right answers.

He said he hoped that an NFL team would give him a chance, but he wasn’t stressing out about it. He stated that he would accept an invite to try out for a team as a free agent, but he would love to be drafted. He came across as intelligent, down-to-earth and a respectable young man.

His highlights showed that not only was he a man of character, but he was a heck of a football player, too. On tape it appeared a team, especially a team in the late rounds, would take a flyer on him. Even guys like Ron Jaworski and Chris Carter said that they would draft him, and that he would probably play for an NFL team next year and contribute.

But those guys appear to have been wrong. With his resumé, one would think that Woodhead would be a shoo-in to be one of the 252 people drafted. Wrong.

As time was waning in the seventh and final round of the draft, Woodhead had still not been drafted. As pick No. 250 was being announced, ESPN once again cut to Woodhead’s home, where he was on his cell phone appearing to be talking with one of the final two teams with draft picks, the Bills and the St. Louis Rams.

The Bills passed on Woodhead and drafted Kennard Cox, a defensive back from Pitt.

Cut back to Woodhead’s home. He’s still on the phone, and he appears to be smiling. The analysts believe that St. Louis is going to select him. The crowd starts chanting his name, "Dan-ny Wood-head, Dan-ny Wood-head…"

And with the 252nd and last pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams select? David Vobora of Idaho, not Woodhead, thus ending the young man’s dream of being drafted by an NFL team.

But there’s still hope.

While Voboro was named the 33rd version of "Mr. Irrelevant," the end of this draft will forever be known for the story of this young man from Nebraska.

No one will ever remember Voboro (or the 150 people that were selected in front of him), but for those that stuck through the countless hours of over analysis, player breakdowns, and Mel Kiper Jr.’s hair, the story of a kid pursuing his dream will forever live on.

A lot of the players selected in this year’s draft knew that they would be drafted. They may not have known by whom, or in what round, but they knew they were going to be playing professional football for someone. Woodhead just hoped someone would give him a chance to prove himself and no one did.

I keep thinking about the last shot Woodhead talking on his cell phone. Was there a representative from a team on the other end telling him they wanted him to come in as a free agent? Was it a member of ESPN telling him to pretend he’s happy? Or was there actually no one on the other end of the phone, and he was just pretending to be happy since the cameras were on him?

We’ll probably never know the answer to that question, but here’s hoping that one NFL team will answer Woodhead’s request of giving him a chance. I think he deserves it.



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