Exit Interview: Andre Woodert

USC running back Andre Woodert went from walk-on to scholarship player by his senior year and along the way he gained a reputation as the spiritual leader of the team. Click below to learn more about this Trojan in our series of Exit Interviews:

Talk about your decision to come to USC. Did you have any options to play football at other schools or did you know you wanted to be a Trojan?

In my senior year at Agoura I had a pretty good year but then I got into it with the coach and ended up transferring to a Division 11 school, Calabasas, which is nearly impossible to get recruited from. I had some decent numbers but they weren't the kind that were going to get many looks. The interest I had from schools was mostly on the academic side. All the big recruits had a stack of letters from schools who wanted them to play while I had a shoe box full of letters from schools who wanted me to study. M.I.T., West Point, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Duke. I had a 4.3 GPA after my junior year and that's when all the attention started coming and then I got a 1380 on my SAT. I didn't really even study for the SAT because I don't like the test, I don't like the fact that some people can prepare for it and study for it while some people can't. I don't think it's really a fair test of what you know. I'm not a big test guy but sit me down and let's discuss something and I'll show you what I've been blessed with.

I got a couple letters from USC telling me I should apply for an academic scholarship. They made it clear they really wanted me to go for it. My dad, he has worked at Pepperdine my whole life and there is a program they have called Tuition Exchange. Needless to say, it's very expensive to go to USC but Pepperdine and USC are part of this Tuition Exchange program which meant that if I got accepted to USC then Pepperdine would pay part of the tuition since my dad has been working there for so long. It came down to USC or Pepperdine for where I wanted to go but it became pretty clear to me and my dad that USC was the way to go because I still wanted to play football. I ended up getting the academic scholarship to USC and when I combined that with the Tuition Exchange it actually covered 120% of the costs.

Once that was settled I called the football office and tried to get into camp. All summer I waited for the camp to start and when it came they called and said it was full and I couldn't come. That was a horrible day. They said to keep calling and see what happens so I called in mid-camp but still there was nothing. At this point I thought they had pretty much forgot about me so I just stopped by the office and I must have had all God's graces that day because I just told them how badly I wanted to play and so they told me to leave a tape and Coach Carroll would look at it that night. I thought, wow that is fast, and the next day they told me to bring some cleats to the field for a workout because they wanted to see what I could do. I went and had a five minute tryout with Coach Kirby (Wilson) because I was playing receiver then but I dropped a bunch of passes and didn't really do well. They told me, we'll see what happens but when I showed up the next day they were like "here's your locker, this is your box, practice starts at such and such time". I remember getting a pair of fresh shorts that had the number 106 on them. With walk-ons, there are over 100 players on the roster so there are some numbers that get used twice. My number ended up being 27 and I was fine with that but when I first saw the shorts I was worried that my playing number was going to be 106 and I definitely didn't want that.

You've played receiver, safety and running back for the Trojans. Do you have a preference?

I'm a running back. I love receiver, I just love playing football. I was probably too timid for safety. It would have been better if I had played some safety in high school so that I could develop that mentality. I just didn't have that killer instinct, especially when you're at a place like USC where you are going up against monsters on the other side of the ball. I could probably try safety now, if someone in the NFL wanted me to try safety, I would run and hit whatever they want. A lot of that is born from the spirit of competition. Some people might think "oh, I'm only a running back, I'm only a receiver" but I'll play wherever you want me to. I'll play nose guard if I have to.

Talk about the spirit of competition that Coach Carroll brought to this program.

Coach Carroll is a very inspiring guy. He's a great speaker. If you're not used to his halftime speeches or pre-game talks you would be like "wow, where is the script?" because what he says is so amazing. After you've been there for a while the speeches became less moving because you've been around him so much but what never changed was the way he instilled the concept of competition. What that told me is that by the time the speeches stopped shaking me up it was because I was already shaken. I had already bought off on what he was saying. I don't know if we have that as much now as we did a few years ago, those all out battles for competition. Me and John Walker, for five years we went to battle, all the time. Big time battling buddies. We would try to get the better of each other every chance we could. Why? Because that's what was instilled in us at the beginning. Coach Carroll had instilled it in the seniors and they passed it down to us. Darrell Rideaux, Fargas, Sultan, Kareem Kelly, those guys would work out in their own group and we'd be over there watching in our group. These guys were a class above us at that point and we would watch them work to the point where every rep was a competition. Who was faster, Who lifted more, Who jumped farther. Everything you did was a chance to beat the other guy. I remember Darrell standing on a table and yelling "I'm the fastest Jackrabbit", he would have some epic battles with Kareem. That's what we were taught. We would come into the locker room after Competition Tuesday and I would see Fargas at his locker with cuts all over his body. I would sit there and think "that's cool, I need some cuts". I respected him for that and I remember later as a running back when I first started to feel those knots and cuts after a practice I would think to myself "all right, I'm working at that Fargas level now".

John Walker and I saw that as freshmen and said to ourselves, OK, that's how we need to work. If you relax for a second, boom, the other guy's got you. I remember running 110 sprints and I was trying to keep up with Rideaux, I was with him for a while and then he just took off. After the run I was standing there breathing real hard and he's just there with both feet together, hands on his hips, and he says "you're breathing is out of control. I could hear you during the race and I knew where you were the whole time. I knew I could lose you at anytime so I just waited to accelerate when you got closer". That's the mentality of competition in trying to get any edge. It didn't matter what you were doing, you were looking for anything to help beat the other guy. From that point on I worked on my breathing because I wanted to beat Rideaux and if we race again and if he isn't on top of his game that day, I've got him. That comes from Coach Carroll. That's the spirit of competition that he embodies. It's those little battles within the battles. When John Walker and I would go at it in the weight room, probably to unhealthy lengths sometimes, and one of us would get the better of the other guy, that guy would have to live with it all day until the next workout. Nothing needs to be said, you don't need to, you both know who won.

Another great thing is that Coach Carroll brings in assistant coaches who believe in that as well. Coach Pola was a hard-core guy about that and Coach T-Mac is hard-core in a different way. T-Mac came in talking trash and then once he started talking about how he approached the game you just said "wow, cool, let's take that attitude out on the field". Coach Norton, you couldn't ask for a better style than Coach Norton. He called me out a couple times and got me to do things that I might not have done but I just wasn't going to let anybody tell me I couldn't do it. When we were at the Orange Bowl he had me sit in on the linebacker meetings instead of the running back meetings because he wanted me to understand Adrian Peterson better. He had me sit right next to him and he'd be talking trash to me the whole time we're watching film "that's a bad dude, I don't think you got it, I don't think you can show us that". I would go out there in practice and just run amok, the next day in film he would be saying "you did good but Adrian Peterson, he does that all season. I don't think you got it. He's Superhuman". What was I going to do, let him be right? I've got too much pride to let him be right. I don't care what issue I had with my body that day in practice, you can't let them be right. I remember Lofa (Tatupu) coming up to me after the game and saying it was harder to tackle me than it was to tackle Adrian. I respected that a lot. There was one play during the game where Lofa had taken Adrian and body slammed him to the ground and I had thought to myself "Lofa ain't never done that to me before". That goes to the heart of taking pride in your preparation.

When we talked to some of your teammates about you they always mention your preparation, the way you handled your role on the service team. Talk more about that.

It's a character thing, a pride thing. We had a meeting at the beginning of the year and all the seniors got to talk, I asked the younger guys "what are you going to stand for?" What are you going to take with you, what are you going to leave behind? How do you want to be remembered? Those are the things you start to think about when you near the end. For me, I want you to understand my character. I may not get a billion yards but I want you to respect what I do on the field. I want to be remembered as a man of strong faith, a man of character. I want to be remembered as a man who came to work every day knowing what he had to do and he understood his role.

That's the way I handle myself. I took it upon myself to think if I didn't come as hard as I could that day that the work wasn't going to get done. I needed to help prepare the team the best I could each and every day. We had a lot of times where I had more yards on service team than the opposing running back had in the game. By the time our team had seen me do it, they were prepared for anything in the game. I would explore every cutback, every move and I would have 30 carries every day to do it.

That role also taught me to avoid complacency. Coach Burns would be telling the defensive guys in the meetings "Andre is wearing you out" and then he would tell me "you need to pick it up". That was just what I needed to hear, thank you Coach. Instead of thinking what I was doing was good enough, he wanted me to go out there and raise the game even more. You need to bring it every day.

One of the things I really love about football is that it teaches you how to overcome challenges. You need to overcome whatever little demons you may have. You need to learn how to handle things when they don't go your way. Look at me, I'm not Reggie Bush. What am I going to do, not play running back now? When you understand that you might not get a lot of carries on Saturday, how do you respond? Does that make you not want to work as hard on service team?

You played running back in the spring ball sessions of 2003 when it was only you and Hershel back there all spring. How was that for you?

Scary. I had played running back for about four weeks during my freshman year in high school and ever since I was a receiver. One day I was sitting in the locker room and Hershel Dennis came up to me and said "you're going to be a running back". I told him I was a receiver. He said "no, I just talked to coach. It's gonna be you and me at running back". That was, wow, for having not played the position in so long it was tough to get back there and carry the load like that.

I played running back like a receiver. Went through the hole high, got blasted, got hit by all of them. I can tell you this, it's all real. I've been hit so hard. I remember one time I came through the hole and Matt Grootegoed hit me from the side and Danny Urquhart hit me straight on. I saw Danny coming so I was braced for that and I leaned into Danny but all of sudden Groots hits me in my hip and my legs go flying and flip me around. I'm on the ground and Coach Pola is yelling "finish, finish" and I'm thinking "Coach, I don't know if I can walk". I thought for sure my leg was broken, there was no doubt in my mind, but through the sheer fear of Coach Pola I got up and tried to jog but my hip was just killing me. I didn't expect to get hit like that in the drill but that was Groots, it didn't matter to him, that's what you respected about him.

Coach Pola was real tough to play for but he's a great coach and he teaches the game so technically sound that you begin to see the play before it happens. That is his mentality. Look up at the safeties, read the linebackers, read the shade of nose guard, read the 3-technique. That's Coach Pola right there. If you do those things, you will know what you need to know before the play even starts. There shouldn't be any decisions once the play starts as far as your first one or two cuts, you should know your decisions before the snap of the ball.

You played with some special running backs at USC. Talk about them.

Fargas was the one who really ingrained things in my mind. He had heart. You couldn't teach Justin to run the way he ran and he only knew one speed. He had to adjust his splits in the backfield because he was running too fast. Instead of lining up 7 ½ yards back he was 10 yards back because all he knew was that gear. Coach Pola put together a highlight tape called "Heart and Finish" and there was this one play where the hole closed and Fargas, I'd never seen this before, he sped up. He went straight into that line of people as fast as he could. There may not have been a hole but he was going to get all he could. Fargas got tons of respect when he ran service team because he had no line and all he did was bang on people. I was at receiver and I just used to watch him, that was my first understanding of Fargas.

LenDale White is the best running back I've ever seen play. Bar none. Period. Reggie Bush is one of the best football players I've ever seen, no doubt about that, but LenDale is the best running back I've seen. LenDale has everything you want in a running back. He's got perfect body lean, great size, power. He destroys anybody he wants to. He blocks and flips d-linemen like it's nothing. His understanding of the game is way out there. You could sit in meetings and if there was a technical question he would always just be like "it's this kind of front because these guys are there and we need to do this". His instinct for the game is tremendous. We would be in practice and anytime he wanted to he could get 8 yards per carry. It didn't matter what the play was, 8 yards. He could get frustrated sometimes and that's an issue he needs to work through because the game comes so naturally to him.

Not every player is like LenDale though. I was telling Michael Coleman, don't try to be the same player LenDale is. A guy like Coleman needs to look at Reggie Bush to understand his approach to the game. Reggie is a relentless worker, he spends so much time studying and asking questions. If he messes up, he will ask the coach what happened. The relationship between him and T-Mac (Todd McNair) is amazing. The thing people love about Reggie Bush is his heart. He can also do some pretty amazing things on the field too, that talent goes without saying.

You inherited the role as the spiritual leader of the locker room after Darrell Rideaux graduated. How did you handle that?

I'm gonna preach more by the way I carry myself than anything else. If I started walking in the locker room shouting "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus is the way" then guys are gonna be like "all right man, that's what my mom told me, I'm cool". If I just show up giving everything I have, if I perform my role on the service team at a hundred million miles per hour, if I'm working as hard as anybody in the weight room then guys are going to know what you are about. I want you to know what you can expect from me. Along with that, I'm going to be praying. I'm going to be praying before a workout and after a workout. I'll be praying before a practice, after a practice and during the practice if I need to. If you ask me a question about my faith, I will respond but I won't beat you down with it.

We lived in the church when I was younger, that's what was right and that's all we knew. My parents grew up in the church and they wanted to pass that along. They led by example, they kept us in church, kept us reading. For those who grew up in the church you are going to have that point in your life where you veer away a little bit just because you've always done things the church way but then maybe you get to college and start hanging around with different friends and you see that there is more to life than just the church. I went through that a little bit and then I realized that there is way more to the church world. I got away from trying to figure out everything for myself, I grew up a thinker who wanted to know how everything worked, but then you become more mature and you realize that things are bigger than you. You start to realize, OK, you can't walk this walk and then try to add these outside things to your life, it just doesn't work that me. The great thing is that God isn't going to put you in those positions and then leave you on your own, that would be cruel, instead he tells you that the closer you get to him the more he will guide you and be with you. Once that happens you start to see things that you maybe didn't understand as a child, things like character and integrity and handling yourself the right away. In many ways that begins to give you more freedom to live your life.

I look at my parents differently now than I did before because I respect how they lead their lives by example. It's one of the biggest blessings that I've had, my parents. They have been amazing parents. My mom is all heart, she's great, she can be real sensitive. She gave me the ability to understand and empathize with people. I get my emotional side from my mom and that's cool to have because anybody can just be strong like a rock but real strength is to be strong and gentle at the same time. It's hard for some kids to understand that but it's how I've always been. My dad is a man of outstanding character. He's real strong, he's like a superhero and he's been that way my whole life. He embodies everything that a man should be. I look back on the lessons I've received from dad in how to walk like a man, how to act like a man, how to care for a woman. He taught me what it looks like to be a man who walks with God, a man who walks in the spirit of the lord, all of those things are what I see in my father.

Have you had friends who search you out for advice when they have problems in their lives?

Oh yeah, that's been happening since as far back as I can remember. That was happening in elementary school. I always tell people though, I'm not perfect. By no means am I perfect. I know the difference between right and wrong and I'll still do wrong sometimes. Maybe the difference between me and somebody else is that I'm not doing it and thinking it's OK. I'll do something and know, this really isn't the right thing to do, and that's when I get right back on my knees and say I'm very, very sorry.

When you look back, what are some of your favorite memories of being part of this program?

Man, so many things. The team aspect. The opportunity to play with some of the best ever, that was huge. I'll take that with me more than the championship rings or the nice hotels. I got to play with guys like Troy Polamalu, he's one of my heroes, he embodies the whole power and gentleness within the same individual in better ways than you can imagine. On the field, he is a lion. A lion doesn't need to pounce his chest and shake the trees to tell you that he is king of the jungle but just wait until it's time to hunt and then you'll see why he's the king. That's Troy. He's the kind of role model people need. He's the type of guy who can inspire the people.

After the UCLA game this year you walked back to campus with the Trojan Marching Band. Why did you do that?

I always tried to show love to the band because I have tremendous respect for them. I would always run through the band during my pre-game warm-ups and would always climb up on the band ladder after each game. After the UCLA game I went through and shook hands with everybody and then after I came out of the locker room they were marching up the tunnel so I went up with them. The thing is, the band already loves the team. To take a couple minutes to show love back to the people who love you so much, it means a lot and I'm going to take that opportunity every time I can. That drumline got me through some tough times in camp. They would start their camp at the same time as us so there are times when your body is tired and sore during practices but then you start to hear the beat of the drums from the band and it's all cool. They are the heartbeat of USC football. We owe it to the fans to respect those who are there for us like that.

What's next for Andre Woodert?

I feel like I'm blessed with so many talents that I would be a failure if I didn't use all of them. Right now, while the body is still fresh, I'll go through the NFL testing and see if anything happens there. I'll see what God has planned for that and then after that it will be grad school, medical school, something like that. I majored in kinesiology with a minor in philosophy, I studied some Japanese as well. I love math, physics. It's a tough question to answer because I'm basically going to do whatever God tells me to do. He has laid out a plan for my life so far, I may not have always followed that plan, but it's gotten me to this point and it doesn't end now. It's a matter of staying as close to God as possible and letting him continue with the plan. When you buy a car, you don't ask the car how it works, you talk to the maker of the car and you check the manual. I am the car and God is the one who made me and the Bible is the manual. I've read the manual and I trust that the maker of this car has a purpose for what is coming next because he's the only one who knows right now.

Woodert prays on field prior to USC home game


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