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Woodhead's Stronger for His Year Away


It's been a while since we've heard much about Danny Woodhead. Here's the short version of the story of the small-college superstar running back's first NFL season:

He got hurt the second day of training camp. He rehabbed the entire season. He attended meetings. He learned about the NFL. He won a little-known team award.

And now he's ba-a-ack.

"I feel great, I really do. I'm doing everything that everyone else is," Woodhead told today. "I'm excited to play football. That's what I'm here for. I'm not here to hang out in the training room. So I'm very excited to be back."

Woodhead was the most celebrated undrafted free agent signing in the hours after the 2008 draft. The Chadron State back, the leading rusher in NCAA history (7,962 yards) and two-time Harlon Hill Trophy winner as the top player in Division II, was shown on the phone with then-head coach Eric Mangini after the draft concluded.

He joined the Jets and worked hard alongside his fellow members of the Class of '08 all off-season and into camp. Then on the second day of full-squad practices, he suffered a knee injury.

"Right when it happened, it didn't hurt as bad as I thought it would," he recalled, but added with a laugh, "I had a good feeling that it wasn't positive."

Thus began the rehab portion of Woodhead's first NFL season. But being a glass-half-full guy, he wasn't about to cry over spilt milk.

"That was the first time I've ever had to experience that," he said. "It was kind of uncharted territory. It was tough, but I think it made me appreciate things a lot more. It gave me a chance to learn and realize kind of what the NFL is about.

"That's what happens in football, and you've got to roll with it and make the best out of it instead of making the worst out of it."

So Woodhead learned all he could of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's scheme and terminology, soaked in everything from the offensive and special teams meetings he attended.

Along the way, he impressed one group of people in the organization: equipment director Gus Granneman's staff. The equipment room is responsible with awarding the Hampton Award each year. The honor, named after longtime Jets equipment man Bill Hampton, goes to the rookie "who acts most like a pro in the locker room," who's friendly, courteous and neat.

The "Eq" guys, along with all the past winners still on the roster, vote (á la the Heisman Trophy balloting) for each year's "Hamp" winner. This year Woodhead was the fifth Hamp winner. His No. 35 jersey hangs to this day in the equipment room to recognize his achievement.

"It was something I didn't expect," he said. "I'm a person that's just going to go about my business every day and do what I'm supposed to. If something like that comes along, it's definitely an honor and it's great to receive that award."

Here are the five Hampton Award winners and how they've fared as pros:

 Year Player How He's Fared
 2004 S Erik Coleman 6th-season pro, now with ATL
 2005 K Mike Nugent 5th-season pro, just signed with TB
 2006 WR Brad Smith 4th season with Jets
 2007 CB Darrelle Revis 3rd-season pro coming off first Pro Bowl
 2008 RB Danny Woodhead 2nd season with Jets

As tough as it's been spending a year away from the game he loves, it hasn't diminished his drive. He has absorbed the daily and weekly routine of being a pro, and he's pumped about the new leadership of head coach Rex Ryan and RBs coach Anthony Lynn combined with the continuity with Schottenheimer as the OC.

And with the Jets' off-season strength program ready to begin in a week, he's as fired up as his legion of followers in Nebraska, the Midwest and all around NCAA Nation have known him to be.

"That's good, that's good," he said about the fans who check in weekly on for any scrap of info him. "I'm looking to be back not just the same. I want to be better than last year. The injury isn't something that worries me at all. I'll have had a whole year with Sal [Alosi, strength and conditioning coach] and I believe that's helped me quite a bit, and I still have another off-season.

"So I'm not looking just to be the same or close to the same. I'm looking to be better."

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