On Thursday, Nick Woodman begins a journey no one from Utica College, a Division III school in central New York, has ever been on. Woodman, the school's all-time leader in quarterback sacks with 29.5, will be among the dozens of players to participate in this weekend's New York Giants rookie mini-camp.
It's not what Woodman was supposed to be doing Thursday. A public relations/journalism major, he was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the school's Hall of Fame sports banquet on Thursday night.
"He's got some other plans," said Utica football coach Blaise Faggiano, who is, obviously, perfectly fine with Woodman's excuse for missing the speaking engagement.
"This is big news here in Utica, New York, no doubt about it," said Faggiano.
Woodman, a local kid from Utica's Proctor High School, is aware of the community support.
"It's been really cool. The support here in Utica is crazy. It’s just a different level. People I don’t even know, people I do know, people I’ve known forever. From all different types of people it’s just been really supportive," Woodman said via phone on Wednesday evening.
"I’m very amped. Very ready to go. Very anxious to get down to New Jersey to do this."
Utica has had a football program for 15 years. Faggiano has been the team's coach for nine, and has been coaching for 23 years.
"I’d never had an NFL scout call me or be in my office in 23 years," said Faggiano.
That changed with Woodman, who had mini-camp tryout offers from two other teams -- the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets -- and had been scouted by other NFL teams including the Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers.
What drew all this NFL attention to a player from a central New York school that had never experienced anything like this before?
Well, Woodman is a 6-foot-4 5/8, 240-pound pass rusher with speed and a projectable frame that might be able to handle around 260 pounds. Incidentally, that size is very cloze to the 6-foot-6, 244-pound Leonard Floyd, who many thought the Giants would draft last week until the Chicago Bears selected him one pick ahead of the Giants, ninth overall. Woodman's 4.6 40-yard dash would have put him near the top of the linebacker class at the scouting combine. Woodman's 311/2-inch vertical is roughly the same as Alabama's Reggie Ragland, and his 10-foot-1-inch broad jump is better than the 9-foot-10-inch mark turned in by Giants' fourth-round pick B.J. Goodson.
Faggiano might not have foreseen this opportunity for Woodman when he recruited him out of local Proctor High School as a skinny, 190-pound kid. He did, however, recognize it when Woodman was destroying Division III competition by his sophomore season.
"We talked about it," Faggiano said. "You watch our film and he sticks out. We talked about the things he needed to improve on. He really become one of our hardest working in the weight room guys. The kind of leader that had no problem getting on a kid he thought was being lazy, but doing it in a good way.
"It what you love to see in Division III. They come in as kids, young men, they develop and mature, and he’s done so very graciously."
Washington Redskins scouts were the first to inquire about Woodman, and he was eventually asked to run for NFL scouts at a Colgate event after his junior season. He played at a Division III All-Star Game in Florida after his senior season, and participated in the Fordham Pro Day.
It was at Fordham where he first received interest from the Giants, who were also the first team to offer him a mini-camp tryout. They did so on Saturday, while Woodman's other offers came a day later.
"We felt like the Giants were the best situation at the moment because of their enthusiasm and how interested they were. They were the first team that was like yes, we want him to come here," Woodman said.
"It just felt good to me."
A hand-in-the-ground defensive end for Utica, Woodman said the Giants will try him out at as a SAM linebacker. He has been working on linebacker-specific drills for several months now.
"Linebacker is foreign-ish to me, but the concepts of the position isn’t any different than what any other position is. You’ve gotta learn, you’ve gotta read, and you’ve gotta react. That’s all defense really is," Woodman said.
"Learning the position that’s not hard. Obviously I probably look awkward doing it because I’m long and I’m lanky everywhere, but I don’t think learning the position or doing what needs to be done in the job is going to be hard."
Faggiano said the Giants see Woodman "as a developmental player, if he were fortunate enough to make a practice squad."
Can he make it?
"I look at it as I’m the first one from Utica College to do something like this. I’ve never been through this, none of my coaches have ever been through this. We’re all learning together. If I do get a contract, hey, that’s freakin’ awesome. I’m gonna be ecstatic, I’m gonna drive all the way back home with a smile on my face," Woodman said.
"If I don’t get a contract I’m still going to be happy because I put myself in that position and I know that even if I don’t get a contract I still gave it my best. I’m not going to go to the Giants facility in front of the Giants coaches and half-ass it. That’s not my plan. I didn’t train since December for something like that to happen.
"Either way I know I gave it my best shot and I know that it’s not the end. I’m not gonna stop. I’m gonna keep trying, whether it be with another team or if I have to go to the CFL or whatever I have to do that’s what I’m gonna do."