There's a lot to love about the BJ Penn Gym. And in truth, most involve making sure that my fatass stays in shape through a variety of sweat-inducing exercises. But there is one very key, albeit unexpected, benefit (and one that does not get advertised when you sign up.) The opportunity to meet collegiate and professional athletes! To date (if my memory serves correctly) I've met Mike Malala, Chad Owens, Dale Haretuku, BJ, and now, Tavita Woodard.
If you've followed much of what I've written since I began attending practice a few months ago, then you'll know that one of the things I've harped on most is how nice all of the players I meet are. Contrary to the larger-than-life persona that has overrun much of college football, I found that all of the UH players I interviewed and talked to to be, without exception, unequivocally nice and approachable. This was true for Tavita as well.
In retrospect, it was probably not the best idea to go up to someone who was in the middle of a medicine ball workout and expect that they will be enthused to meet/talk with you. Still, impulsivity overtook my better judgment and Tavita was gracious enough to pause his workout to speak with me at length about the upcoming season and his plans for the future.
On His Potential as a Pro:
Tavita was emphatic that he sees himself as a stand-up linebacker in the NFL, in the mold of DeMarcus Ware and Mario Williams, someone who anchors a 3-4 as a rush-end/linebacker. In particular, he felt buoyed by the high selections of Ziggy Ansah, Datone Jones and Dion Jordan, focusing in particular on Jordan as an appropriate comparison of both skill set as well as size. When I asked him what his favorite NFL team was he stated simply "whatever team drafts me."
On His Excitement for the Season:
Truthfully I dominated the beginning part of the conversation slobbering about Taylor Graham and my excitement of the offense. And to his credit, he was a great sport about it, giving his opinions on the offensive progress (great) and how he felt this year compared to last (it's not even worth comparing it's so much better.) When we talked defense though, he (understandably) perked up. The first thing that he noted was conditioning. "Everyone needs to get in shape." Last season was a wake up call of sorts, and he refused to place the defenses struggles solely on the offense leaving them out to dry on the field for so long. He felt that the defense could (and should) carry the team, that they had the raw talent to be elite and talked at length about his line mates Beau Yap and Siasau Matagiese and how dominant they were going to be. Finally, he set his personal goal for the season at double digit sacks (he had 5.5 last year along with 38 tackles).
He closed by telling me that he was committed to staying here over the summer to work out and get stronger. He's listed at 6-4, 260 and, unlike some of the more…creative measurements that the school applies to some of its other players on the roster, Woodard is every bit as advertised. I expect big things.