Today’s guest finished up at Ole Miss in 2003. He came out of Oxford High School and went on to be on an offensive line and when I go back to the years he was at Ole Miss, I remember the offensive line was an impressive group of young men. Today I’d like to welcome to the show – Cliff Woodruff.
Rebel Rex: You came out of Oxford High School and from what I understand, you were only there for two years in high school so just catch everybody up a little bit on what led you to Oxford, Mississippi to begin with and got you to be a Rebel.
Cliff Woodruff: I was born in Texas and lived there for a few years and then my parents moved to New Orleans. My dad worked at universities so he was at Tulane and then I guess when I was halfway through my freshman year, we moved to Maryland for a year and a half so I went to two high schools up there and came to Oxford for my final two years. Once I was there I loved the town and loved the atmosphere and loved the people and the school obviously and decided that was where I wanted to go. I didn’t look too many places to be honest with you. Coach Cutcliffe came in and the environment was right and being exposed to that particular game day environment and the passion of the fans – everything about it – I had never seen it anywhere else I had lived. I figured I’d try to hang around a bit longer and be a part of it.
RR: I remember your very last game because I was up in Dallas for the that Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma State. But I’m curious – during those years up there do you have any special moments or special games, things that you remember real well that always stick out in your mind?
CW: There’s a few actually. One I was talking about the other day – when I was redshirted. You go through practice and you’re basically a tackling dummy. You’re having the experience and enjoying it but there’s no big payoff because you’re not getting to play and Coach Cutcliffe called us up after one practice and said all the scholarship players were going to get dressed for the game against Alabama. They had Shaun Alexander, we had Deuce and it was just a big big game. I remember running out of the tunnel with all the smoke blowing and it was so bright – almost blinding – and it was so hot. It was an experience that gave me goosebumps and I said this is what this is about. Even knowing that I wouldn’t get to play, that experience right there just solidified everything and made it all real. It didn’t have anything to do with playing, it just had to do with feeling like you arrived I guess, like you really are a part of the team. As far as playing time, my first real big playing experience that I felt like I contributed to a victory was against Mississippi State. I don’t remember what year necessarily but I was in at left tackle and Doug Buckles was in at left guard and we blocked one guy – I think we were at the 12 yard line heading in – and we just got ahold of him and drove him back about 15 yards into the end zone. I think we ended up not scoring by about one yard simply because we lost our balance because we were pushing him so fast we fell on the ground. So those are my two experiences where I felt like first contributed and where I felt like I was a part of something.
RR: I’m actually going to be talking, in just a little bit, to a guy you actually played next to during your senior year. He was right there to the left of you, Marcus Johnson. When I’m talking to him, Marcus will be on a bus with the Duke University team as they head up to Virginia Tech this weekend. I’m looking forward to talking to Marcus, I had Belton Johnson on previously. When I started going back and looking at all the names and everything, I just said wow because that was at the time when we had Spencer, Stallings, Buckles, Claxton, and then the two Johnsons, yourself. That was a very talented offensive line and I’m sure Eli was very happy to have guys like you around.
CW: I would imagine so. I know one year that we were second in the nation in fewest sacks and that had to do with having the fewest sacks in general but also with throwing the ball five or six hundred times in a season. I’d say we were always in the top ten statistically as an offensive line and I think its won and lost in the trenches essentially. Coach Latina knew how to teach somebody and knew all the basics and technique. Ultimately, I can name players left and right who ultimately probably weren’t the strongest and they may not have been the fastest, but they had the technique. A man who benches 250 pounds can beat a man who benches 500 pounds if he has the right technique. That’s something the coaches always harped on. Then of course the personalities we had – sure the offensive line is often overlooked but the fans we have know that we’re the most fun caring people and know we’re the meanest sometimes too.
RR: On the opposite side of the ball while you were in college, is there a particular player or players that stand out that when you went up against them it was was like, ‘Wow. That guys got something?’
CW: Well, of course, on our team I would say it would be Derrick Burgess and Kendrick Clancy. They were the two side-by-side I was a tackling dummy for as a true freshman. As far as playing other teams, there was a linebacker from Auburn named Karlos Dansby. He was by far the most difficult assignment I ever had in college. He was lightning fast lining up and running around. He was definitely one of the most talented and speedy players I ever played against.
RR: Like I said, you finished up at Ole Miss in 2003. Catch Rebel Nation up as far as whats been going on with you since that time.
CW: Well, I got down and I went to Winnipeg in Canada for a little bit and then I came back down and decided to get my MBA at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. After that, I went to Atlanta because I had a lot of friends as well as my brother who lived out here. I figured it would be a good place to find a job after finishing my education. I started working with someone I met playing football, Will Smallwood. He was a walk-on from Atlanta and his family was in the insurance business so he and I hooked up and we are still working together to this day.
RR: So you’re actually located where outside of Atlanta?
CW: I live in Kennesaw, right outside Atlanta but our offices are in Atlanta.
RR: Do you get back to Oxford for any of the football games over the years? Have you had the chance to go back?
CW: I try to make it back about two or three times a year. My parents actually retired to Oxford so I try to go see them and then to see a football game on top of it is always a plus. I went back a couple weeks back and saw the A&M game. Couldn’t bring my wife, unfortunately, because she’s almost in the third trimester of our first child so she wasn’t really in the mood to deal with a big crowd and walking around too much. So I was unable to take her to see it but I think we should’ve beat Texas A&M personally. She’ll come back to next years’ games though.
RR: Congratulations on the baby that’s coming. Do you know if its a boy or a girl?
CW: Its a little girl we have coming – January 21st. Its our first and I’m pretty excited. That first trimester was really slow and then this past one just really sped up and it goes by and you feel more kicks and more movement. We’re about to start the third trimester and now it seems like its dragging on again because you just want it to be over and you’re anticipating them being there.
RR: I actually have four daughters with a huge age range actually. The two youngest are sophomores in high school and there’s this thing called dating no one likes too much. I’ve got another one who’s about to get married – I like the guy so I’ll give him a thumbs up. But I’ll tell you – I blame every grey hair on those girls. They will wrap you around their finger and just charm you to death and you will be the most overly protective. You’ll say they’ll never be around any guy that was like you when you were younger and you’ll say there’s nobody good enough for them.
CW: Its kind of weird, at first I always expected a boy I guess – a football player and I was going to teach him to play.Then I found out it was a girl and I was shocked for a few days because I realized I don’t know what to do with a girl! I have my mom and I’ve only ever dated girls. The first two or three days I was kind of shell shocked and then I realized I had always heard about daddy’s little girl and how girls love their daddies and don’t always get along with mama when they get to high school but no matter what she’ll always love me and figured that’s a pretty good deal! She’s gonna love me and be sweet to me and if she has any problems it’ll probably be with her mother.
RR: Its wonderful, I feel blessed. All my kids are great kids and I wish you congratulations to you and your wife. You will have a blast and it will keep you going. You mentioned the A&M game and I went back for that one myself. We should’ve won but we both knew that unless everything lined up, the odds weren’t too good.
CW: Yea they’re a tough team to beat. I think Coach Freeze is getting this team together and its finding its identity and that’s essential. When you named the players on our offensive line and then the ones you didn’t name, we were all brothers essentially. We obviously had our issues and may have had fights here and there but we had that there. We’d get letters from people all over, even after our losses, that said yea we lost but we were class acts and never gave up.
RR: I must say I was really concerned about the LSU game. I never go into a game expecting a loss but at the same time that game had me scared to death with all the defensive starters out. Obviously LSU is a very talented team but I think you hit the nail on the head. This team has shown an enormous amount of character. They don’t quit under any circumstances and what they did against LSU speaks volumes about the kind of young men they have right now.
CW: Absolutely. They’ve got program builders as Coach Cutcliffe always called them. Fortunately we’re getting five star athletes too. We’re getting the best in the nation obviously with this last recruiting class. But a lot of times character is more important than skill and it has to do a lot with everyone relying on each other and knowing that everyone is going to do what they are supposed to do. You talked about Marcus Johnson earlier and he’s one person I always loved playing next to – I loved playing next to Doug and Chris when they were there too. I was mostly next to Marcus and I knew that if we were running the gap and he and I had to be blocking and working, he was going to be there and giving up just as much effort as I was. The trust you have with the people in the trenches next to you and the receivers and everyone else, it goes a long way and once you have that trust you can dismantle teams that people say you shouldn’t even be on the field with.
RR: Just curious. Eli has always seemed so laid back and that’s at least the image that’s always been out there. Is he really that laid back on the field even when a guy gets through and he takes a sack or there’s a missed assignment? Is he always as laid back as the image makes it seem?
CW: Its actually funny you say that. I did an interview for Return to Glory and I have a story I told them. I don’t know if its on there or not but basically I remember we were playing somebody and basically a guy came free and hit him from the blind side and when I look back he was bent almost in half and it looked painful. At that point obviously emotions are high and the game is tense and with something like that you might lose your cool or lose your temper but he hopped back into the huddle and just called the play. Never pointed fingers, never blamed anyone, just cool as a cucumber just called the next play and we did well. Which I think is tremendous because to give up a sack, everybody in the stands yells and screams and blames you rightfully so, but you never do it on purpose and you don’t want people to be hating on you or talking bad about you but it comes with the territory. You don’t need your teammate ripping on you because you already feel bad about it.
RR: I know what you mean and it always amazes me when a defensive back gets burned and people in the stands are saying well why did he do that. He didn’t do it on purpose. He’s the one who is playing in front of 70,000 people and has to get back up and run the next play. Fans don’t have to be rational. The second string quarterback is always loved and those are just typical fan things.
CW: Its funny you mention that because I remember a game against Arkansas our senior year and I think we won 12-7 or something. I remember there was one time late in the game and we were up and there’s probably five minutes left in the game or something like that. We were backed up and I want to say it was third and fourteen and we were on our own 2. Of course Eli’s feet are in the end zone on the snap and its just loud. I remember after we break the huddle I remember being there just thinking please just don’t give up the sack over and over again.
RR: As an offensive lineman, one of the things I’ve often wondered is obviously when your quarterback is in that situation or even your running back who’s back there deep. Another thing that comes in is if you guys hold while the plays in the end zone, that’s going to be a safety as well. So I mean it kind of puts a lot of pressure on you because you’re thinking I can’t let him get sacked, I have to block but at the same time I can’t hold either.
CW: And you don’t want to false start or be too deep and have an illegal formation. There’s a lot of nuances that a lot of traditional fans don’t necessarily think about that are going on. You’ve got the intensity of the game, the play, you have to look at the defense, listen to the call, figure out what the defensive front is and then adjust accordingly. You’ve got to be listening and you’ve got to be praying and playing hard all at one time and its a lot of emotion.
RR: Its been a pleasure talking to you, I appreciate you taking the time out. Its always great to hear from you guys and give Rebel Nation the chance to know what y’all are doing and where you are. Hope you’re able to get back to another game, I don’t know if you’ll be able to squeeze in another this season with all thats going on at home
CW: Oh we’re trying to make it back before she gets too pregnant and doesn’t want to ride in the car for four or five hours. We’re trying to make it to Thanksgiving there and see everyone and then after that everyone has to come see us.
RR: Gotcha! Like I said, best of luck and thank you so much and Hotty Toddy to you my friend.
CW: Absolutely, Hotty Toddy to you!