Many people forget that Denver Broncos starting linebacker Wesley Woodyard got his start in the NFL as an undrafted rookie out of the University of Kentucky.
He’s been selected by his teammates to serve as a special teams captain in each of his five NFL seasons. He’s been a staple on the leader board for years now.
Former Broncos linebacker and Kentucky teammate Braxton Kelley has known Woodyard since he was seven years-old. Kelley and Woodyard served as each other’s best man at their respective weddings.
“He drives me to be a better person,” Kelley said of his best friend. “He drove me to be a better player. He drove me to work like I had never worked before.”
While many know that Woodyard led the Broncos in tackles in 2012, not many know that he brings the same kind of energy and passion to his work off the field.
Woodyard helped start the 16Ways Foundation, which supports at-risk youth. On Thursday he hosted a dinner in Denver to raise money for the foundation, where many of his teammates provided table service.
On Saturday morning, Woodyard and his teammates untucked their shirts and made it all about the kids at the first annual 16Ways youth football camp.
Over 200 kids ages 8-14 years-old showed up to attend the free camp that featured Woodyard along with Champ Bailey, Kevin Vickerson, Chris Harris, Jacob Tamme, J.D. Walton, and Quentin Saulsberry among others.
“It’s fun hanging out with the kids and being a role model for them,” Harris said following the busy day.
“I love to do anything that he’s a part of,” Vickerson said of Woodyard. “Anything I can do to help out, I’m there. I’m his protector on an off the field.”
While some of the best in the business guided kids through football drills, the day wasn’t actually about football at all.
“What do you want to do after football? That’s what’s important to me,” 16 Ways President and CEO Derrick Kelley said at the start of the day. “You guys are our future.”
Kelley has served as Woodyard’s mentor from the beginning. Early on he told Woodyard, “‘I want you to be a productive citizen.’ I told him that from day one. ‘You don’t owe me a dime, you don’t owe me a car, you don’t owe me a house. I need you to be a big brother to my kids. I need you to be a productive citizen. That’s all I ask.’ He’s well ahead of the game.”
While Woodyard and his teammates led the kids in stretches, Kelley made it his mission to head to the parents’ section of the stands. He started off by telling them that what their kids learn in terms of football would be pointless that day.
“I like using football things to get my hands on the kids, so we can get in there and put our arms around them, and listen to what they have to say,” Kelley told the parents.
The new theme for 16Ways is their anti-bullying campaign.
“We’re always worrying about that kid that’s out there bullying. Those kids in the streets are not bullies. Those kids are protecting themselves cause that’s what type of environment they’re in. Sometimes we may be the bully in our house, and our kids are watching. It does me no good telling these kids out here that I’m going to protect them if they don’t want to go home to you guys’ house. I’m going to ask some kids today, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Talk to me. I’m here to listen. If I identify something, I’ll bring it to your attention. That’s the whole goal today is to bring awareness.”
Woodyard admitted that he was bullied once in the ninth grade. With Kelley’s guidance, Woodyard learned how to stand up for himself.
“I want them to know that they have someone that’s genuinely looking out for them,” 16 Ways Vice President, CFO, and co-founder Joe Soloman said.
To prove even further that football was only a small part of the day’s event, 16Ways had Invictus life coach Brian Anderson address the kids after the drills were over. Gathered around the kids as they listened to the speaker were Broncos players and volunteers from the Air Force.
That’s a lot of strength and support right there. Even though strength is so much more than muscle, for a few hours on one Saturday morning, those kids felt loved and protected.
That’s the way 16Ways does it. “Changing lives one play at a time.”
* 16Ways and Wesley Woodyard aren’t done. They will be putting on two more camps this summer in LaGrange, GA and Lexington, KY.