He had a degree and a year of eligibility still left.
Iowa State running back Jeff Woody wouldn’t have been the first player to focus on football and enjoy a light semester in the classroom. Nobody would have blamed him if he had. His eyes toward medical school wouldn’t let him. He wanted more.
“They were going to pay for it. I figured I could take basket weaving and underwater sea diving and golf,” Woody said, “or I could actually get something functional.”
Woody knows the value of a free education more than most. The former walk-on running back redshirted in 2009 but earned a scholarship on Aug. 20, 2010 after being named scout team player of the year.
Iowa State doesn’t have a medical school, and instead of closing his academic career with a class schedule that invites chuckles, Woody pursued one that drops jaws. He was admitted into a graduate program for biomedical sciences.
“It’s medical school preschool,” Woody said. “It’s basically the first year or two of what medical school would be and gives it in course work, but doesn’t have the clinical application.”
He could have graduated a semester early in December 2012, but elected to delay it by taking organic chemistry, biochemistry and functional anatomy in the Spring 2013 semester, all prerequisites for entrance into medical school that weren’t necessary for his current degree.
Woody plans on chasing a dream in the NFL, but if it doesn’t become reality, he plans to follow through with finishing his three-semester graduate program in winter 2014 and moving on to medical school in the fall of 2015.
Woody’s tuition is paid, but beyond that, he’s not collecting checks for his football performance. There aren’t autograph brokers or agents beating down his door with cash in hand, either. The camp that believe college athletes should be paid and is growing in size and prominence, but before that reform arrives, good luck finding a player who got more out of his college football experience than Woody.
He’s best known for scoring the biggest touchdown in Iowa State history, barreling into the end zone from four yards out in the second overtime to send Iowa State to a bowl game with an upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State in 2011. His aim for medical school is less known, and so is his status as co-president of the Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC). Time requirements make it extremely rare for a football player to serve on the 10-member executive board, much less be elected president. As president, Woody must attend meetings and help organize community outreaches like canned food drives. Putting those together includes balancing planning between Iowa State administrators and other community members like business owners to nail down logistics of various outreaches.
Woody’s also the lone Cyclone player wearing a wedding ring. Following the 2012 spring game, he proposed to his high school sweetheart, Hannah. The two were married on May 11.
“He’s been mature beyond his years from the day he arrived on campus,” coach Paul Rhoads said.
Woody walked through the buffet of the college football experience and loaded up a full plate. He just didn’t leave much space for free time.
“Everybody needs a little bit of Jeff in their life, so it’s good,” Hannah said.
The maturity and organization needed to be a former walk-on and a future med student might not be there without Hannah, who is plenty busy herself. She works shifts from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. as a nurse in Ames and also holds a second job on the side. The two met in preschool, but early on in high school, a future marriage seemed like a fairy tale.
“She didn’t really want a whole bunch to do with me in high school, because I was a different cat back then. … Jeff Woody liked himself some Jeff Woody,” Woody said of his high school ego, buoyed by success on the football field. “As soon as I started dating her, it kind of popped my balloon a little bit, which is probably something that needed to get done.”
The two began dating between their junior and senior years at Southeast Polk High School in Des Moines, Iowa. Now, she’s what he calls his biggest secret weapon.
“I’m one of those people that schedules my scheduling,” Hannah said.
Earlier in his college career, Jeff confessed he’d missed a quiz, and Hannah asked to see his planner. There was one event noted on a Monday, but the two weeks beyond that—including when the quiz was scheduled—were blank.
“She’s like, ‘Jeff, you’ve got to be kidding me.'” Jeff said.
Since then, sorting out responsibilities with a demanding class schedule, homework, SAAC responsibilities and—oh, right—lifts, practices and meetings for football has become a task for two. Finding time together isn’t easy. During fall camp, when football responsibilities are at their peak, the two managed around just six hours a week together. During the season, most Monday nights are ideal to spend together, but her early wake-up calls prevent that time from extending very long.
“She doesn’t want to take things off my plate, she wants to make everything more efficient instead of having me waste more time,” Woody said. “I’m a pretty good time waster.”
It’s a special time for Woody, living out a dream of playing college football and planning for the future. It’s crazy now, but it means no regrets later on missing out.
“This is the one time in his life he has that outlet and a pedestal, if you will, to reach people, so that’s why he loves SAAC,” Hannah said. “He wasn’t too involved in that stuff in high school and he regrets that.”
A technology lover, Woody sits down and sorts out his schedule with Hannah periodically and makes sure his iPad and phone are up to speed on what lies ahead.
The former walk-on was also given figurehead status as president of the tongue-in-cheek “Walk-On Players Association,” something Woody was a member of early in his career.
“Jeff’s not shy to speak up and tell the team what they need to do from a work ethic standpoint, from an objective standpoint and backs up that verbal leadership with physical work ethic,” Rhoads said. “As he’s grown more into the role and gained more credibility with his age and stature, I think that maturity has helped him. When you’re intelligent, when you’re organized and structured, you can handle a schedule like that. Jeff is all of those things.”
He’s proven it over time, and the money Woody will earn in the work force by making the most of his college experience won’t really start kicking in until medical school is over. The memories have already materialized, whether it’s looking back on dropping to one knee on the field at Jack Trice Stadium, or being mobbed by students storming the field after the biggest win in school history.
“It all seems like one great story you tell your family and friends that runs on for five years,” Woody said.