FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When running back Danny Woodhead was signed to a one-year contract on Sept. 18, some thought it might have been gamesmanship on the part of the Patriots.
Woodhead was previously with the Jets, and the Patriots were playing them the next day.
But the 25-year-old Woodhead, who has battled longer odds at various points of his career because of his diminutive stature, has quickly become a key contributor. A native of North Platte, Neb., he shares his football journey with ESPNBoston.com:
The first time he touched a football: “I don’t even remember. I know I was very young. My dad was a coach so football was a big part of my life from a very young age.”
Memories of his dad as a coach: “He was a high school coach, the wide receivers coach. So I played under him, obviously. My brother [Ben] was on the team, too. That was obviously a special time -- my older brother is my best friend and then my dad is there. I looked up to them; it was a great time.”
What he learned from his father about football: “Probably the thing I learned most is to always enjoy it. Football is a game you play since you were little, in your backyard, then city league, and it’s supposed to be fun. As you get older, in high school, college and professionally, it obviously gets a little more serious. But it’s always meant to be fun; it’s still a game.”
Playing in high school and being selected Nebraska’s Gatorade Player of the Year: “The top memories of playing in high school were being teammates with people I grew up with. Especially when you’re from a smaller town, these are people you’ve played your whole life with. There are a lot of memories. If there was one moment that stands out, it would be my sophomore year, playing with my older brother and being coached by my dad. We made it to the state title game. We didn’t win it, though.”
What football is like in Nebraska: “That’s the sport there. With the University of Nebraska, it’s definitely a football state. The fans there love it. I just grew up around it, following the Huskers.”
Attending Division II Chadron State: “Obviously, I didn’t get any offers from Division I. My whole thing was to go to a place that really wanted me, that appreciated me. That was Chadron State. They offered a full scholarship and my brother was also there, so I couldn’t pass that up. I knew that if I wasn’t going Division I, that’s where I would go.”
Finishing college with 7,962 yards, the most in NCAA history at the time: “My top memories were playing with my brother and some of my best friends. It was similar to high school in that sense -- it’s about the people, it wasn’t so much about winning. We had good teams, but it’s the lifelong friendships. That’s probably the best part about college football.”
Entering the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Jets: “They were the team that wanted me, and at the time, I felt like that was the place maybe I could catch on. They gave me a chance because there were so many questions about my size. I knew I was coming in a different route being undrafted, but my mindset was to work as hard as I could because I felt I could play in the league.”
Spending his rookie season on injured reserve after sustaining an injury in training camp: “Getting hurt early on made me appreciate the game that much more. Not that you take it for granted, but I was just focused on working as hard as I could to get back."
Thoughts when the Jets fired coach Eric Mangini and hired Rex Ryan: “It was different. It wasn’t the coaching staff that had wanted me. But that’s what happens in the NFL, and you adjust. I figured I’d just work hard and see where that took me.”
After appearing in 10 games in 2009, being released after the opening week of the 2010 season and landing with New England: “Getting released, it’s not the most ideal situation, but I thought God had a plan for my life and whatever happened, happened. Was it tough? Yeah, but people get released. More than anything, I just was looking for another opportunity. Was I excited it was here? Heck, yeah. This is an organization that has won a lot of games, it’s a team known for that. I just wanted to come in and do what I could to fit in. I’m not a 'me' guy. I just want to help the team in any way possible.”
If he thought his signing might be gamesmanship on the part of the Patriots: “I never really thought about it. I looked at it as another opportunity to play football. To go out and do it, work as hard as I can and see where that takes me.”
What he’s learned about the Patriots: “We’re definitely committed to winning each game and focusing on the task at hand. This week, it’s about getting ready for the Ravens. You go day by day with that in mind.”
His feelings on contributing to the team in two wins: “It’s been great. Winning is the most important thing. Anytime you can get a win, it’s definitely considered a successful week.”
On his wife, Stacia: “She’s a big part of my life. We’ve been married for a couple of years. We met in high school and dated throughout high school and college. She’s definitely happy for me, but at the same time, she knows it doesn’t change me. I still come home and do the dishes and take out the trash. She doesn’t treat me any differently.”
Life outside of football: “God is No. 1. That’s how I live my life. Recreationally, it would be golf. I love to play.”
Comparing North Platte to Foxborough: “They aren’t too similar. There aren’t as many trees here. I’ve really enjoyed Foxborough. It’s definitely a little slower pace than when I was in New York. I’ve enjoyed the people here. The transition has been smooth.”