Pat Rivers, Assistant Sports Editor
Defensive coordinator Will Pluff and defensive end Nick Woodman put Utica College football on a national spectrum with milestone achievements.
Pluff was one of 39 NCAA and NFL coaches selected to attend the Coaches Academy in Tampa, Florida Feb. 19-21. Woodman on the other hand, is preparing for one of the most important days of his life, his NFL pro day next weekend at Fordham University.
These accolades set both Pluff and Woodman apart from everyone else in the conference at their respective positions. The program as a whole is also set apart because not many Division III teams have players and coaches who receive national recognition.
Most athletes are familiar with the idiom of “beating the odds” and understand what it takes to do so. Essentially, beating the odds is the action of accomplishing a goal that was considered unlikely. Woodman believes that people underestimate Division III football players and set them at an unfair disadvantage in terms of reaching the next level.
“Being a Division III football player you don’t really get the chance or opportunity to play at the next level compared to a Division I athlete,” he said. “Not many guys even come out of high school and play college ball so beating that odd was something I had to do as well.”
Woodman has beaten the odds set against him with this pro day alone. Therefore, his performance next Thursday will be, not only for himself, but for current and future Division III football players, a chance to show what Division III football is all about.
“Showing people that there is talent in Division III is something that is a goal of mine because a lot of people look at it as, ‘oh you’re a Division III player so you’re not that good since you don’t get a scholarship to play,’” Woodman said.
The odds were against Pluff as well.
The goal of the Academy is to reference skills and points of emphasis as coaches move forward in their jobs. For instance, this includes what a defensive coordinator needs to do to be a head coach. Academy officials want to use this as an opportunity to further the education of football administrators. They believe this will lead to a more complete experience for the athletes.
The Academy is led by the NCAA leadership development staff and the NFL player engagement. The plan is to educate and train selected participants in a variety of areas that encourage effective coaching and improve student-athlete well-being at both intercollegiate and professional levels. Participants gain knowledge from various workshops and interactive-discussion sessions.
Tony Dungy, a prolific NFL hall of famer, spoke at the Academy and had one of the most efficient discussions Pluff has ever seen.
“He had to have been the best listener I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life,” Pluff said. “He got up and he spoke, and he opened it up to questions. There was no cutting off when answering the questions. He took time to process what they asked him and really gave thoughtful and quality responses.”
Pluff got the chance to meet Dungy and have a brief conversation afterwards. He told Dungy about Utica College, the football program, and that head coach Blaise Faggiano was a huge fan. Pluff said more than anything, he wanted to get a picture with Dungy just to give it to Faggiano, and he did.
As for Woodman, he says he just hopes to run, jump, and perform well so that he can turn some heads in his direction.
Overall, the end factor in beating the odds is success, and that is the goal for both Pluff and Woodman.
In reference to becoming a head coach, Pluff said, “I want to have success here, and I believe, whenever we have success here, whatever my next stop is will be presented to me. But having success here and winning our conference championship is why I come to work every day.”
Woodman is already a bit familiar with success as he holds UC’s all-time record for career sacks. This familiarity may explain why he remains humble about attending the pro day. He understands that the real success will be when he becomes a professional football player.
Featured Image; DC Will Pluff discussing football with Hall of Famer Tony Dungy. Photo courtesy of UC Pioneers Football