Family Exclusive - A 56 TweenerBy Harvey Aronson, SteelCity Mafia
November 23, 2008
Throughout the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers that began in 1933, the Black and Gold have had some great players who played the position of linebacker. In 2008 a mix of veterans and young players have
’s defense dominating the NFL’s team defensive statistics. Among that group is LaMarr Woodley, a first-year starter for the Steelers and former Michigan Wolverine, drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft.
This season, Woodley is wreaking havoc in the NFL through the first 11 games. Among the top five in sacks, Woodley was featured recently on NFL Network and ESPN being labeled a “tweener.” LaMarr was unaware of the story, but the basis of the story was that Woodley has positioned himself between a player that is developing into one of the league’s best and fast becoming the “next big thing.” Recently, LaMarr Woodley joined Steel City Mafia in a conversation about his career with the Steelers; his community efforts; and the current great linebacking corps of James Harrison, James Farrior, Larry Foote, himself, and situational linebacker Lawrence Timmons, the man drafted just before Woodley.
The first question I threw at Woodley was in regards to his reaction to the tweener story. #56 had not heard the story but he said it was definitely great. He expanded on the topic by saying, “It says a lot about me, but says a lot about my teammates. I’m not able to go out and make sacks and big plays without those 10 other guys out there doing their job. I was lucky enough to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers and play with a bunch of veteran guys that are well respected around the league. I’m just a part of something that has been going on for years.”
I mentioned to Woodley that in some parts he is often compared to the great L.T., Lawrence Taylor. Our own version we’ll call “L.W.” responded to that comparison with this reaction:
“That’s a nice comparison. I first wore #56 in high school and kind of compared myself to him. I watched highlight films of Lawrence Taylor. One thing about L.T. is that offense and quarterbacks had to know where number 56 was and that’s the type of player I want to be. Where the offense has to find where #56 is, when #56 is coming. I guess I have that mindset now.”
Having graduated from
, and playing for head Coach Don Durrett, Woodley was a star in high school as well. There he was named to the USA Today, Parade, CNN/Sports Illustrated, G&W Recruiting Report, and Super Prep's All-American First Team. He was also a “Gatorade Player of the Year” for the state of
. That was among many other awards and recognition the four-year starter received while in high school. LaMarr Woodley took those awards and his reputation at linebacker on to the
where he excelled in his four seasons there before coming to the ‘Burgh.
The Steelers knew by drafting Lawrence Timmons with their first pick in 2006 and then following it up with the selection of Woodley in the second round, they had two special players. Both had to wait for the opportunity to play and start and for LaMarr Woodley, his chance came first when Clark Haggans left for the Arizona Cardinals. He has made the most of it, but off the field, Woodley has contributed to the community as well.
LaMarr Woodley is very active with the Boys and Girls Club of Pittsburgh and just a few weeks ago appeared as a guest speaker in
. Woodley has not forgotten his roots either as each summer in
, he holds a golf outing called “Heroes for Kids.” For that event, he and Clifton Ryan who plays for the St. Louis Rams, stage the event with proceeds benefiting recreation efforts in
for children. Other NFL players get involved and offer autographs as well.
For the first time, this past summer on June 14, Woodley and Ryan established the “LaMarr Woodley and Clifton Ryan Football camp.” It was a free event for children of the age between eight and 14 and held at Woodley’s alma mater,
. Over 300 kids attended, receiving t-shirts, a lunch from Subway, and Gatorade or Nike bags. Naturally, they also were awarded with an autograph from LaMarr Woodley and Clifton Ryan.
I asked LaMarr about the camp and he told me, “My high school coach Don Durrett attended, along with NFL players Marshawn Lynch, Prescott Burgess, Roy Manning, Charles Rogers, David Harris, Larry Foote, Steve Breaston, and Clifton Ryan.”
, since becoming a Steeler, Woodley has staged the “Holiday Toy Drive” at The Mall at
inson. He invites some of his teammates and in exchange for those who attend and bring a donated new and unwrapped toy, the players sign an autograph. The Children’s Child Life Department is the benefactor of the donated toys. This year’s event is scheduled for Tuesday, December 9.
While speaking with LaMarr Woodley, I asked him what it’s like playing with such a dominate linebacking corps this season. His opinion is the following.
“Like I said, we have a bunch of veteran guys. When you look at a guy like James Farrior who's been around the league for a while; Larry Foote who’s been there for a while; James Harrison even though starting for the first time last year, has been around for a while. Add me along with that group and it has definitely made the group much better and having Timmons coming in and making big plays going for our certain defensive packages, you kind of have a bunch of guys that are hungry, physical and goes out and plays hard every week.”
Perhaps it’s a silly question coming from a diehard Steelers fan and asking one of the best players on the team, but I hit Woodley with the inquiry of Do we have the best linebacking corps in the NFL? With a chuckle, Woodley gave me this answer:
“Of course! Of course, when you look at our stats and all our linebackers, we are all out there making big plays, and when you look at us as a defensive whole, we’re ranked pretty high in every category.”
As many of you know, Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau is celebrating his 50th year in the NFL as a player and coach. I asked #56 what it was like to play for such a great coach.
“He’s a great coach, and one thing you respect about coach LeBeau is he treats players like players should be treated. He’s not the type of guy who does a lot of yelling. He’s more laid back. He’s comfortable about going out there and attacking. He’s been out there on the sidelines for 50 years and so you have to respect the guy for that.”
As of this writing, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves with an 8-3 record, holding the number two seed in the playoff hunt and atop the AFC North one full game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens. With games against the Patriots, Cowboys, Ravens, Titans, and closing with the Browns, my final question to LaMarr was in regards to the outlook of the remaining schedule. His response was upbeat and optimistic.
“As long as we continue as a defense and go out there and play like we know we can play, and go out there and shut the run down and not allow teams to throw the ball downfield, and put many points on the board, I think we can definitely finish the season off strong.”
If you’d like to learn more about LaMarr Woodley, information about his past, his high school and college days, and his involvement with the community as well as much more can be found at his official web site at http://www.lamarrwoodley56.com.
The hope among Steelers Nation is that the Steelers do finish strong and enter the post-season with their final game coming in
on February 1 with a triumph in the Super Bowl and a sixth world title. If that does in fact become the case, you can rest assured that the Black and Gold defense will play a major part in that and one of the story lines will most assuredly be the play of the linebacking corps led by the two-headed sack attack of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
Regardless of where the rest of the season takes us, one thing is for sure. The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted yet another gem at linebacker when they selected LaMarr Woodley in 2006. There are several players eligible for the Pro Bowl this season, LaMarr Woodley is one of them. You can do your part in voting for #56 as a Pro Bowl player by voting for LaMarr and other Steelers at http://www.nfl.com. While the New York Giants have their “L.T.” the Pittsburgh Steelers have their own version in “L.W.”