By Jon Roe
In a season filled with successes for the Dinos football team, there’s been one player who has been forced to watch the action from the sidelines.
After leading the Dinos and the Canada West conference in rushing in 2007 and posting the second-best rushing total in the University of Calgary’s history, running back Anthony Woodson broke his ribs and punctured a lung two weeks into the 2008 season. He spent five games on the sidelines, watching Matt Walter claim the Canada West rushing crown, before returning to the line-up for the final game of the regular season and all three of the Dinos playoff games.
The Dinos had run all the way to a conference semi-final, and Woodson was preparing in the off-season for another successful Dinos season, catching some balls outside of the regular training schedule earlier this year. Woodson fell awkwardly on his shoulder and he needed surgery. There was some built up wear-and-tear in the muscle, so overall, the injury was probably a good thing for a beaten-up part of Woodson’s body.
He was rehabbing his shoulder, when he was dealt another blow.
“Then my foot, I was coming back from my shoulder injury, I was just trying to get back into running and everything,” Woodson told the Gauntlet on Nov. 12. “About two weeks from starting running, I broke my foot and that was about it for the season.”
A season where the sky was the limit, and the goal, for the Dinos football team, and Woodson would have to spend it looking in from the outside.
“It is weird, especially because for the first part of the year when I got hurt, I wasn’t around them too much,” he said. “It was like a part of my life was missing.”
Woodson had gone through a healthy football career since the age of 10 without missing more than two games in a row before he was forced to spend the majority of last season on the sidelines and this entire season away from the game.
“It definitely hurts,” he said. “It hurts a lot. I went through a lot last year with my broken rib and punctured lung. I don’t think I dealt with it that well. I was out partying a lot and kinda depressed about everything.”
But with that experience under his belt, Woodson said he felt like he’s dealt with this year’s injury a lot better, focusing on his schoolwork and working to save money.
“This year, because of that, I’ve grown from that,” he said. “I’m dealing with it a little better and trying to stay around the team more and just try to live through them kind of. The football team’s kinda like a family in a way. I just watch their success and hope they do well.”
Dinos head coach Blake Nill agreed that the way Woodson has responded this year to more time on the sidelines is an indication of maturity.
“There’s no question that this kid is one of the premier players in the country and he has to look after himself,” said Nill. “I think he’s starting to realize that. I think he’s starting to realize that, you know what, it’s his responsibility to make sure he stays healthy and he looks after himself.”
When he was on the field, Woodson was dueling Walter for carries, yards and touchdowns. Now he’s watching Walter run wild across the country and lead a dominating Dinos rushing game as the premier back, a position Woodson had occupied before his string of injuries. Walter has picked up two Canada West rushing titles since becoming the feature back and racked up over 200 yards in the Dinos recent Uteck Bowl win. There’s no jealousy in Woodson for Walter’s success, though.
“If I didn’t like Matt Walter, it would kind of bug me,” Woodson said. “But he’s a great guy and I have a lot of respect for him. I just like watching him succeed in everything and hopefully we’ll start up another competition next year.”
He’ll have his shot to get back into the Calgary offence, for sure, but perhaps most at stake for Woodson is his potential pro career. The string of injuries has caused people to start asking if he should quit football, Woodson said, and has dropped him off the radar of CFL scouts. Woodson feels, however, that this is a great way to frame the final two years of his Canadian Interuniversity Sport career.
“Two years ago, I was probably one of the top prospects for runningback,” he said. “Now I’m kinda at the very bottom. Some teams might take a chance on me, I’m just kinda hoping I still get invited to the CFL combine and hopefully I can rip it up there, and just kinda jump back up on their boards. For me, I play best when I’m the underdog, and when I have no expectations anyway. I kinda like that.”
But before that, he has to focus on rehabbing a broken foot. He took off his protective boot five weeks ago and just started doing an exercise where he walked for five minutes and then jogged a lap.
“Yesterday was my first day actually running, just trying to run a whole lap,” he said. “I couldn’t even remember the technique to running or anything.”
Though he didn’t play a part in the Dinos success this year, he still has an eye on the ultimate university football prize, even if it may be a long year before he gets a crack at it.
“I was there when we were just a brutal team,” said Woodson. “I’ve kinda watched us and been through all the progressions. I kinda wanna see it through to the finish, to us winning a Vanier, starting up a dynasty here at the U of C.”