Other times, it might only take a look.
But there is no mistaking it: When a player comes through the Norwalk Junior Truckers football program, head coach Woody Woodruff leaves an impression.
As the Norwalk High School football team made the final preparations for Friday night’s Division III regional championship game in Bellevue against Sandusky — a number of upperclassmen on the team found themselves reflecting on where it started for them.
“Coach Woodruff helped me out when I thought I couldn’t do it,” said Logan Weinert, currently a junior lineman for the Truckers. “He drove me to love the sport and told me I could always do it.
“To this day, I look back to when he told me I could do it,” he added. “That helped me through the hard times and drove me to love the sport.”
Senior receiver and defensive back Ian Scheid had no hesitation in how much credit Woodruff deserves.
“He was the first person that made me truly realize that I loved this sport,” Scheid said. “He is a great guy with all the kids, and a really great role model to follow.”
Friday’s game is fitting in more ways than one for Woodruff. Not only is Norwalk (9-3) playing in Week 13 for the first time ever, but it comes at a venue he once called home.
“I graduated from Bellevue in 1975 — so my senior year we played Norwalk’s (1974) state championship team,” Woodruff said. “So this is definitely a pretty special thing to see happening this week.”
As the 1990s came to a close, Woodruff was coaching flag football through the Norwalk Park and Recreation Dept.
The now-retired Ken Leber was the Superintendent of the Park and Rec at the time, and he reached out to Woodruff once work of a potential youth tackle football program taking shape in Norwalk.
“He asked if I was interested in getting it going, and I said yes,” Woodruff said. “And now 19 years later, here we are.”
The Junior Truckers began in 2000, and is for grades 4-6. The teams typically play 10 games on Sundays, and sometimes go to an end-of-season tournament.
Woodruff has seen a lot over the years when it comes to the ups and downs of maintaining a solid youth program.
The biggest thing I’ve seen is so many more choices for kids,” he said. “But I think the video game mentality has really taken a toll on not just football, but athletics in general.
“And obviously the concerns with concussions has played a big factor of late,” Woodruff added. “But as a whole, our sixth grade numbers weren’t good, but fifth grade is on the rebound. We had 44 kids, which is more of a typical number. Hopefully they all had fun and come back next year.”
First-year Norwalk High School football coach Todd Fox is admittedly not a big fan of youth football. The longtime area head coach isn’t so much worried about the injury aspect — but said he’s had concerns over the teaching of fundamentals.
His concerns at Norwalk were quickly put to rest.
“Right away, I got to watch Coach Woodruff, and he does a fantastic job of coaching the kids,” Fox said. “But he’s also coaching his coaches to do the same.”
Fox is the guidance counselor in the elementary buildings in the Norwalk Schools district. He’s seen first hand the impact of Woodruff — just in the hallways.
“He teaches those kids how to be student-athletes and good people,” Fox said. “If there is an issue, I ask them, ‘Do I need to talk to Coach Woody?’ They straighten right up.
“And that is coming from the high school coach,” he added. “They don’t care what I say, but what he says. If you listen to the middle school and high school kids talk, the impact he has had on their lives beyond the field is clear. And that is the most valuable part to the sport, doing it at the early beginnings.”
Reflecting on 2019 class
Woodruff can remember quite a bit about this current group of Norwalk seniors.
“We stuck Brandon (Haraway) at quarterback a lot, and Trevon (Raymore) was actually a lineman,” Woodruff said. “It was a class that got better each week.”
When they were in sixth grade, the Junior Truckers played a tournament at the end of the year in Holland Springfield. They were in the third-place game after losing to Anthony Wayne — which had its current group of seniors go 10-0 this season.
Scheid ran long on a jet sweep play, with Tche Leroux and Haraway helping lead the Truckers down the field for a game-winning kick by Austin Brown in a 3-0 win.
“We stormed the field after, and I’m pretty sure we dumped water on Coach Woody,” Scheid recalled. “He’s the first person to make us feel like a football family — and make us feel like we are one team, a group of brothers. That is something I’ll always remember.”
While noting every class has its own identity, Woodruff said it wasn’t all that difficult to see this could possibly be a special group at Norwalk.
“You could see it back then, and I’ve talked about it several times as the years have gone on,” he said. “And you could tell there were components in each class behind them that would compliment them.
“But my biggest thing is, Todd Fox has earned their respect,” Woodruff added. “He didn’t demand it. He earned it. I know the kids think a lot about him. He’s put them where they are at right now. Obviously he has the talent, but he has led the program to where it’s at right now in very short order.”
Leroux was asked to put into words what Woodruff has meant to him.
But he can’t.
“Words can’t describe what he means to me and my family,” Leroux said. “He’s just phenomenal, and like a grandpa to me. He always told me growing up that I wouldn’t be a running back … and then I ended up being a running back.
“Ever since we moved back from Monroeville he has been there for us every step of the way,” he added.
Every time Woodruff sees a kid become successful in high school — or even college — he still has the same feeling, which keeps him going.
“Proud. Just real proud,” he said. “I can say that about so many kids, which is really special. But for me, I look at someone like Tim Meade.
“He is a senior on this year’s team and cannot play, but he’s been there and sticks it out at every practice,” Woodruff added. “And 20 years ago, that never would have happened at Norwalk. For him to stick it out when he knows he isn’t going to play shows you how far along this program has come.”
As a whole, Woodruff wants all the players coming through the youth levels to learn to love the sport.
“I always hope they take a little bit of what gets said after practice to their home life,” he said. “But overall, I just want them to have a good feeling about Norwalk football. It was horrible when I started doing this.
“That has been my focal point of staying with it,” Woodruff added. “I want them to feel the way about Norwalk that I did at Bellevue. I was proud just to be on the field on Friday night. I want these kids to have that feeling. I want them to have a love of the game and for them to know that it’s not easy — but to love the game.”