Craig Woodson’s journey from Grand Prairie, Texas, to Berkeley, California, has been an eventful one for the redshirt junior safety. From his slow recruitment to his lengthy recovery from injury, there has been no shortage of challenge for the rising star. To make his story even more unique, Woodson didn’t grow up with dreams of playing football.
“Growing up I was a little late to football — my parents didn’t let me play football at first. Before that, I was playing soccer which I was not good at, baseball — wasn’t good at that, I couldn’t hit for anything at all, and basketball, I was okay but I would always miss wide open layups. So as soon as football was really something I was good at, it was mostly just that.” Woodson said.
Woodson has been good and more in both high school and collegiate football. He has been a staple of Cal defense in 2022, having recorded 67 total tackles alongside two interceptions with just one game left in the campaign.
In his first full season playing for the Bears, Woodson has seemingly been nothing short of phenomenal. His first interception this season was his first in collegiate play, and it was only fitting that he took it back to the house for a defensive touchdown.
While this was his first defensive touchdown, Craig did not always think he would be a safety, let alone a defensive player. At South Grand Prairie High School, the athlete had originally wanted to play running back, a position he said was already plenty filled.
“Growing up, that was all I wanted to play, I didn’t even want to play defense,” Woodson said. “ I had always dreamed about being an NFL running back and that was kind of that, but going into high school we already had running backs … so they moved me to safety and ever since then it’s been taking off for me.”
However, Woodson couldn’t have seen this landslide of success this time last year. A devastating knee injury during preseason camp ended his 2021 campaign early and just added another layer in his story of persevering through adversity.
“Having that knee injury that kept me out, recovering from it, was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do in my life,” Woodson said. “ That was really just a hard thing for me to know that some days I’m not capable of doing the things I wanted to, but I know if I keep working towards it I’ll be there eventually.”
Prior to his injury, Woodson had only appeared in eight games for the Bears: four during his redshirt season and another four during the season shortened due to COVID-19. He had been waiting to be able to showcase his talent for the Bears and for his opportunity to have been put on hold in such a manner left him saddened, but his mind and faith kept him strong.
“There were definitely times where I would just sit in my room and cry, even up here I would sit on the field and cry just thinking, “Man, I’ll never be where I was before, I’ll never be as good,” Woodson said. “It was really during that time that I had to lean on God and my faith in him, knowing that if I put that work in he’s gonna keep me covered and allow me to play football again.”
Hellen Woodson, his mother, spoke about her joy at getting to see her son succeed now fully healthy.
“It’s been such a blessing. I have always told my kids that it’s all in what you believe. I felt his pain when he was hurt and I feel his joy and triumph with him when he overcomes obstacles. I told him not to look at the negative aspect of the injury but see what he can do during that time to better himself,” Woodson’s mother said.
Woodson continued to get better as the season progressed, proving to fans that he is one of the integral pieces of the Cal defense. He names Pro Football Hall of Famer Charles Woodson as someone he tries to model on the field and also the inspiration behind his number change to No. 2 this past offseason. No. 2 was Charles Woodson’s college jersey number at the University of Michigan, where he won a Heisman Trophy — the only primarily defensive player to ever do so, a feat that inspires him to this day.
It goes without saying that Woodson’s resolve was tested during time recovering, but his success shows how much effort he has put since returning to the field. The standout safety himself cannot believe the level that he has been playing at this season, but is grateful to be playing with his teammates.
“It’s been kind of surreal, a year ago I wasn’t even able to run, I wasn’t even able to walk and just those things, seeing where I am now, I know I’ve got some more left in the tank. It’s really been awesome just being able to be out here playing again and being able to help the team, make plays — I always knew that moment would come.”
Turning the clock back to Woodson’s high school days, one can see that he wasn’t the most highly sought-after player in his class, but he said his recruiting experience left him wanting more, something that leaves him wanting to show the world just exactly what he is capable of.
Early on, Woodson had committed to UTSA, his other FBS offer aside from Cal. When the blue and gold entered the picture, however, Woodson knew he could show what he had. Cal’s interest in Woodson came about almost by accident — while it was recruiting Woodson’s teammate Myles Jernigan.
It seems as though Woodson flew rather under the radar throughout his high school career, and it has kept him driven on his journey.
“I have seen how he became more focused as an individual by making sure that he had goals and setting them into motion. He works hard as a player and as a human to be the best he can on and off the field. He knows that even when no one is looking he has to make sure he is setting a good example for God.” Woodson’s mother said.
Woodson’s work ethic can be attributed to his faith that has been instilled in him by his mother since his childhood. A member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Woodson credits his success, his injury recovery and more to his relationship with God.
“I put him first in everything, that’s just who I lean on in any situation in my life, if it’s going good or bad, I lean on him because he looks over his children. Having a faith and believing in him is definitely something that is important to me,” Woodson said.
Woodson is not just a superhuman athlete either; he is also a superhuman student. Most recently he was selected to the College Sports Communicators’ Academic All-District Football team alongside seven of his teammates. Among the selection criteria for this honor is a cumulative 3.5 GPA, an accomplishment in and of itself.
Woodson, who has the academic standing of a senior, is a film and media major and cites “Friday” as his favorite film of all time. He found this passion for film in photography, which he says is a frequent hobby of his.
“Growing up, I always told people I’m going to be in a movie one day. Either it was going to be me acting, because I always thought I was gonna be an actor, or maybe even producing it, just being on the set, in production, those types of things,” Woodson said.
Academics seem to be truly important to Woodson, as does, it seems, being in Berkeley, where he has been for nearly four years. Alongside his schoolwork, Woodson has been able to absorb the true spirit of the Cal football team. He has grown to love this campus and his teammates, being inspired by their work ethic.
A lot of his teammates at Cal, Woodson said, are recruited as underdogs — something that makes them as a locker room want to work harder. This is made that much easier by the coaches, who Woodson said do a great job at making the players have a familial bond, both on and off the field
Craig Woodson has arguably been one of the more unspoken heroes of the Cal football team in the 2022 campaign, but he still has much left in the tank — and much left to show fans everywhere. He strives to make his parents and family proud day in and day out, and it is this striving for greatness that allows him to leave so much on the field.
“Getting to be a part of something that’s bigger than myself and being able to contribute to something that is greater than me, that’s what makes me feel more happy to play the game and make me go harder, knowing that I (have) other people relying on me, I can’t let them down. I just want to do my job,” Woodson said.