Woodson Embracing Role As Starter

FAYETTEVILLE -- At this time last year, Kentucky's Andre Woodson was in the middle of a heated race for the Wildcats' starting quarterback spot. Woodson and Curtis Pulley shared snaps with the No. 1 offense.

Even Kentucky coach Rich Brooks was unsure of who would emerge from the competition. Well, Woodson eventually won. And then, he led Kentucky to an 8-5 season and the school's first bowl win in 22 years.

Woodson was named second-team all-SEC, shocking the coaches and teammates who didn't think he could handle the pressure of the position before the season began.

"Well, I'd be blowing smoke up here if I said I thought he was going to go from six touchdowns and six interceptions to 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions the way he did," Brooks said.

"It's maybe one of the biggest transitions from production, leadership, accountability that I've seen a young man make from one year to the next in my coaching career."

Many college football experts are predicting yet another season of maturation and improvement for the native of Radcliff, Ky.

Coaches and members of the media voted Woodson as the SEC's first-team quarterback in the preseason. ESPN.com went as far as to name him as the Web site's first-team all-American quarterback.

But Woodson noted the personal honors would mean nothing if he couldn't help the Wildcats prove that the 2006 was no fluke.

"I'm really not concerned with all that right now," Woodson said. "I'm just trying to get the program headed in the right direction.

"I mean, who would've thought we'd go 8-5 last year and win a bowl game for the first time in 22 years? Not many. Those same people will doubt us this season."

The athletic 6-foot-5, 230-pounder said he became a more vocal leader this season because he knew that would help the team get better.

In previous seasons, Woodson always shied away from speaking up. He went about his business quietly. He refused to challenge teammates. He deferred to older players.

But now, Woodson has decided to embrace a leadership role -- against his innate nature.

"I always knew I had it in me. It's just a matter of confidence," Woodson said. "To be the leader out there, to be the quarterback, you have to set the examples on and off the field. You have to take responsibility and accountablity for all of your actions.

"It's just been different because I've never been a vocal leader. Just something that never came naturally. Something I had to learn, grow into that process."

Woodson credits quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders with simplifying the offense for him.

"He just wants me to control the offense, be a general out there," Woodson said. "He doesn't want to force things."



COACH: Rich Brooks, 5th year.

2006 RECORD: 8-5, 4-4 SEC.





IMPACT PLAYERS: Quarterback Andre Woodson; Running back/punt returner Rafael Little; Wide receiver/kick returner Keenan Burton; Linebacker Wesley Woodyard

SATURDAY'S PREVIEW: Florida's Andre Caldwell.

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