Woods bringing piece of Super Bowl title back to A-K Valley
Joe Woods is coming home this summer, and he plans to bring a gift for his high school’s trophy case.
A defensive backs coach for the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, Woods has ordered a replica Vince Lombardi Trophy, and he wants to present it to Kiski Area for display.
Woods raised the real hardware in February, a thrill of a lifetime for a coach who paid his dues and never took his eyes off his goal of making it to the NFL.
“I’m bringing the trophy home,” said Woods, who helped coach a dominant defense to victory in Super Bowl 50 in his first season with Denver. “I believe this is for my family, my coaches and all the people who helped put me in this position. I am proud to represent Kiski Area and a great area like the A-K Valley.”
Denver boasted the league’s top-ranked defense and validated the hype with a stifling 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Santa Clara, Calif.
“It was all surreal,” said Woods, 45, who graduated from Kiski Area in 1988. “It was like, ‘Did we really win?’ It’s the greatest (football) recognition — you’re the best in the world.”
That the defense shined on the biggest stage, his defensive backs causing havoc and disrupting Cam Newton, had Woods beaming.
“Throughout my career I have always believed I was a good technique coach,” he said. “To see our guys do things they’re taught and to make plays as the No. 1 defense is a rewarding experience.”
Woods never imagined humble beginnings in coaching would lead him to a world title. A four-year letter winner at Illinois State, he started his coaching career at Division III Muskingum (Ohio).
“It’s been a journey,” said Woods, who in his youth performed odd jobs at Davis Field in Vandergrift. “I can remember working full-time as a part-time coach at Muskingum when I was making $187 every two weeks.”
His meandering trail also included stops at Grand Valley State, Kent State, Hofstra, and Western Michigan.
He broke in to the pros as a quality-control coach — “They do all the work,” he said — with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There, he worked alongside Mike Tomlin and Raheem Morris, a pair who won Super Bowl XXXVII together in 2003 (Freeport’s Jeff Christy was the starting center on that team).
From there, Woods caught on with the Minnesota Vikings, where he coached defensive backs for eight seasons.
“That was an outstanding experience where I really developed and came into my own,” Woods said.
After one season with the Oakland Raiders, he interviewed with Denver, which cleaned house despite winning four consecutive AFC West Division titles.
The win-or-bust Broncos helped send Peyton Manning off into the sunset as a champion, just like Broncos legend and current general manager John Elway did years before.
“John Elway told us this team is ready to win now,” Woods said. “That came with pressure, but you want that as a coach. That means you have good players, and it’s your job to get them ready.”
While the Super Bowl win is a sort of culmination for Woods’ two-decades-plus career, it’s not the end. He is set to return to Denver next season as he continues to build his resume, his next goal to climb up a rung or two.
“I always pride myself on being the best DB coach I can be,” he said. “The next thing in line would be a coordinator; that’s where I’d like to be my next stop.”
Woods will cherish coaching for the team for which Manning played his last game.
No. 18 also had special meaning to him.
“Peyton is the pro’s pro,” Woods said. “When you see him in the locker room, he’s just like any other guy on the team, out to prove himself. But he was always prepared. I remember the first time I walked past his locker. I saw 30 notebooks stacked up in there on the top.
“It was like a chess match going against him in practice, and it made it fun. He’d get me every now and then. What a great player.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch edition of the Tribune-Review. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.