Kelly Woodward, the former Hammond High School football star who spent two years at Garden City Community College in Kansas in pursuit ofa Division I college scholarship, has fulfilled a dream.
Woodwardwill begin attending Rutgers University in New Jersey next week on afootball scholarship.
"My dad always told me to hang in there and that good things cometo those who work hard," said Woodward, 20, who will be eligible to play for three years at Rutgers. "People have always told me to stickwith it. It turned out pretty good for me."
Woodward's success isespecially gratifying considering the setbacks he has suffered sincewinding up a terrific career at Hammond. His problems began when he failed to muster a Scholastic Aptitude Test score high enough to landa Division I scholarship. That forced him to consider the junior college route.
"I wasn't the brightest kid, but I'm no dummy," he said. "Some people were waiting for me not to make it, since I was goingoff to junior college. They wanted to say, 'I told you so.' I told them they hadn't seen the last of Kelly. I felt like I had a lot of things to prove."
Besides adjusting to college life in rural, central Kansas -- some 1,200 miles away from Columbia -- Woodward also overcame a shoulder injury that forced him to sit out his freshman season. And after suffering minor injuries in a motorcycle accident here last summer, he made the most of his opportunity as a sophomore quarterback at Garden City last fall.
Running an option offense, Woodwardled Garden City to a 9-2 record, the Kansas Jayhawk Conference championship and a 34-29 victory over Ricks College of Idaho in the Centennial Bowl. He threw for 1,024 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 850 yards and nine touchdowns.
"He (Woodward) really made a lot of things happen. He made the big plays when he had to," said Garden City offensive coach Doyle McGraw.
Woodward attracted numerous big-time schools. Nebraska and Colorado expressed interest in him as aquarterback. Clemson wanted him as a defensive back. Woodward said he settled on Rutgers -- which plans to play him at defensive cornerback -- for several reasons.
"First of all, it's close to home," said Woodward, a 6-foot, 185-pounder who runs a 4.5-second, 40-yard -- and plans to major in either business management or psychology. "Nice facilities, good coaches, good environment. If I get a degree from Rutgers, I can get a good job. And football is on the horizon there. Plus, I'd rather play defense than offense. Ever since I was little, I've loved to hit people."
Rutgers head coach Doug Graber and head recruiter Mose Rison were unavailable for comment.
Woodward said hewill look back fondly on his two years at Garden City. He didn't start out feeling that way.
"I remember getting off the plane thinking, 'I'm in the middle of nowhere,' " he said. "It was like standing in the middle of the ocean with no water. No trees. I wanted to come home.
"It was a big adjustment," he added. "It made me grow up a lot. It kept me away from trouble. It gave me time to concentrate on mybooks and football. And I met a lot of good people from Kansas, and people in my shoes. I'm glad it's over, but it did me a lot of good."
Matthew Woodward, Kelly's father, remembers the triple-digit phone bills he accumulated talking to his son in the early days.
"The main thing behind my decision to send Kelly there was putting him in an environment where he had to do things for himself," he said.
"Ilook at Columbia as kind of a fantasy world. Kids here sometimes don't get a taste of the real world," Matthew Woodward said. "I wanted aplace with no distractions, a place where, if he wanted to go out, he was going to see either a cow, a buffalo or a prairie dog. It was agood wake-up call for him. I couldn't have made a better decision."
Hammond football coach Joe Russo was thrilled with the news. Woodward started on offense and defense for three years at Hammond, where he threw for 3,267 yards and 21 touchdowns, rushed for 1,271 yards and 11 TDs, made 220 tackles and intercepted eight passes.
"I wantedKelly to succeed so badly. He made his mind up about what he was going to do, and he made it happen," Russo said. "He earned it."