After quarterbacking Millwood High School in Oklahoma City to its third consecutive state 2-A title, Woods moved on to Oklahoma State where his brothers, Rashaun and D'Juan, were the big names.
The latter Woods brothers finished their careers as the Nos. 1 and 3 receivers in school history. And Donovan? Well, he debuted as a freshman quarterback with a win over UCLA, and went on that season to throw for 224 yards against Texas, three touchdown passes against Colorado, and scramble for 71 yards against Missouri.
He ended his freshman season quarterbacking the Cowboys in the Alamo Bowl, but he ended his senior season as the Defensive MVP of the Insight Bowl. So, obviously, there had been a few "new eras" in Woods' college career. Here's how the Tulsa World described him recently:
"Donovan will be remembered for his perseverance and unselfishness in gracefully handling the highly-publicized position switch from quarterback to free safety and later to linebacker."
Donovan was moved from quarterback to free safety after the second game of his sophomore season. He was moved to the "star linebacker" position as a senior and led his team with 82 tackles. He was named All-Big 12 honorable mention and the defensive MVP of OSU's win over Indiana in the Insight Bowl. The 6-1½, 230-pounder with 4.7 speed went undrafted and signed with the Steelers, where he played both 3-4 outside backer spots in spring workouts.
"It would've helped to have been a three-year linebacker," Woods said last week. "But obviously it didn't happen that way. The way things happen are pretty much how they're supposed to happen."
Donovan doesn't complain about any of his "new eras." He simply calls change "one of those things." In talking with him, it becomes obvious that he grew up in a classy family, one that's considered one of the best in Oklahoma schoolboy history. Rashaun Woods was a first-round pick in 2004, but was cut by the San Francisco 49ers and then again last month by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL. He just had a baby and probably won't try another team. D'Juan Woods, the No. 3 receiver in OSU history, signed with Jacksonville after the 2007 draft, was cut, but returned as a member of the practice squad. He's considered a potential keeper this year.
Donovan said that coming up behind his brothers made it easier for him.
"I never tried to shy away from the fact those were my brothers," he said. "I didn't mind people comparing me or things like that. I love my brothers to death and it never bothered me."
His brothers were actually quarterbacks and Donovan was the safety/receiver up until high school. But, as he well understands, change was and is inevitable.
"I was just happy to get the opportunity to play," said the low-key Woods. "Obviously I would've liked to have stayed and continued playing quarterback, but sometimes the situation doesn't always turn out the best for everybody. I just compare my situation in football to life: You never know what's going to happen or what's going to be thrown at you, but you just have to keep playing, keep living, because some people don't even have that much opportunity. You've just got to keep on pumping no matter what the situation or the circumstances."
How did he initially respond to the switch to defense?
"It's so much different hitting somebody when you've been avoiding contact for six years," he said. "That was such a big transition for me when I first started playing safety, but I liked linebacker a whole lot better because there's not as much space."
Why was the position called "star linebacker"?
"It was basically a Sam (strong-side in a 4-3), except when we ran our nickel packages they didn't have to move me out."
As for winning the Defensive MVP in his final game …
"I think some of the things came together, and it was a pretty good day also," he said. "Our game plan allowed me to do some things, rushing-wise, that I could do, so that kind of allowed me some success in that game."
Woods' agent told Donovan that four teams offered him free-agent contracts after the draft, but the Steelers were the only real consideration.
"What little research I did, with my family, on the 32 teams, I found out that they're a great organization and they try to do things the right way," Woods said. "My agent knew a little bit about them and how they run their program, and their defensive scheme fits well with some of the things that I do well. And also, they have a great reputation with free agents. I took all those things into consideration as positives in trying to further my career."
Is having a birthday on the first day of training camp a good birthday present or not?
"I don't know yet," he said. "But I will get a chance to see another birthday. That's always a blessing."