Gold Rush Feature: Matt Woodlief Provides Leadership for Defense

Dec. 2, 2010

This article was originally published in the Nov. 20 edition of Gold Rush.

By Sam Walker

Linebacker Matt Woodlief is a solid 5-11, 260 pound bulldozer. He flies around and plows right through blocks and over running backs. Physically, he plays close to the ground. To put it mildly, he isn't the type of player you'd like to face head-on.

"He is a little bowling ball with butcher knives," linebacker coach Steve Russ said of Woodlief. "He really wants to go out there and do a good job, and he's especially productive in the running game. He's a joy to coach, brings his lunch pail every day, he's tough, banged up, but he keeps fighting through. I'm glad I have the privilege to coach him."

"Best things about Woody is that he can make players around him better whether it's seeing things and getting the calls down, making checks, knowing tendencies and giving people heads up on plays. When Woody is in the game, you never have a worry that the guys aren't going to get lined up, people aren't going to know what the plays is, what the call is etc., because he is so good at that. And he's going to give you everything he's got."

Woodlief began to emerge as an impact player as a junior finishing fourth on the team in tackles and splitting the year playing both middle linebacker and outside linebacker.

Coming into this season, he had 38 games and 12 starts to his credit. His career pretty much followed the standard plan Coach Jim Grobe has had since he came to Wake Forest. He redshirted as a true freshman, played special teams and played a key role as a reserve linebacker as a sophomore, backing up Stanley Arnoux.

"Matt's the guy that our plan is designed around," Grobe said. "Right now, we're playing too many young guys, but Matt is kind of the example of the player we redshirt, we work in the weight room, work in practice, and then develop so when they're juniors and seniors, that's when they're playing their best football. And that's what he's doing right now. His work ethic is his best thing. He's running better, tackling better, but more than anything else, he's just a mine mule, working on the practice field and that carries over to the game. He's a great leader because our kids realize he's a guy that really works hard."

He had the resume entering the 2010 season, but somehow he wasn't listed on the two-deep chart when August rolled around for one reason -- competition.

"In spring ball, he got a little heavy, and it affected his play," Russ said. "He came back in the summer lighter - significantly lighter - at least 25 pounds lighter, and you could see some of his old stuff come back. He's got great instincts, but he was not on the two-deep in August because some of the other guys had played well. When he was heavy he wasn't able to put himself in position to make plays. Now that he's shed those extra pounds, he's back to his old self and is able to make plays. We're a very competitive room, and we keep guys on their toes. It's not a monarchy. Just because you're old doesn't mean you're going to play. I am so proud of the way he came back, got himself ready to compete. That's the mark of a great kid."

Through eight games this season, Woodlief ranked second on the team with 8.5 tackles for loss for a total of 21 yards. In the tightly contested game against Georgia Tech, Woodlief recorded eight tackles with three for loss and half a sack.

"I've learned from some of the greatest who have come through here," Woodlief said. "AC (Aaron Curry), Stanley (Arnoux), Abbate (Jon), those guys from the bowl games. I've learned a lot from them. The one thing they've always told me and Hunter (Haynes) and Lee Malchow especially is to just fly around out there. If you make a mistake, just keep going, don't get frustrated. That's what I've learned here at Wake. I spoke with Coach Grobe, and he's said keep working, doing what you're doing, getting bigger faster stronger."

Woodlief said he came to Wake Forest weighing around 230 pounds, got up to 245 to 255 which he is maintaining right now. My speed has gotten better but my strength level has just shot out the roof. When I first got here, I couldn't do a power clean. All I did is bench and squat in high school, but I learned the technique from all the guys. I'm where I need to be but I can be better. "The teams in the past that went to the bowl games, I was a backup," Woodlief said. "This year it's a heartbreaker. I can't believe we're not going to a bowl my senior year, but I have to say I've had an awesome time being here. I'm going all out the rest of the season, I'm not giving up, and I'll learn from it."

Statistically Woodlief is playing the best football of his Wake Forest career and he's doing in under some of the most challenging conditions. Leadership was passed to him this year, and he's handled that role with a young defense the best he knows how: by example.

"Defensively, me, Hunter (Haynes), Alex (Frye) and Malchow (Lee), Tripp Russell have handled this," Woodlief said. "The young guys look to us to see how we handle it, and you have to keep your head up and stay positive. That's what we're telling the young guys. Being a leader this year is a big transition for me. I take great responsibility in this because these young guys are learning from us, what we do, what we say, how we play on the field. My style is just going out there knocking the heck out of them. You do your job, and you will make a play. All I can say (about the rest of this season) is we have to keep being a team, one, a family and always staying positive. We have to try each day to get better. Then you just try to get a win. That's all you can do."

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