In the same week he was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week, Tennessee Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard was asked if he had found a fountain of youth at age 31 that keeps him playing a young man’s game at such a high level.
“Yes, but I won’t tell y’all where it is, though,” Woodyard joked after being asked about the proverbial fountain.
It’s a fair question for Woodyard, who now in year 11 is playing as consistently as he ever has in a career that took him from being an undrafted rookie from Kentucky in 2008, through six seasons with the Denver Broncos and now in his fifth year in Tennessee.
Woodyard said coming to the NFL as an undrafted player showed him early on that it would take hard work to make it and even harder work to stay around. With all that work, plus his change to a plant-based diet a couple of years ago, maybe Woodyard has indeed discovered a football fountain of youth after entering his 30s.
“They say you’re in your prime when you’re in your 30s. That’s the new prime from what I heard. I think the biggest thing for me is getting better every year,” he said. “I challenge myself to try and get better at something every year. Me, coming in the league undrafted, you’ve got that chip on your shoulder where you’ve got to prove yourself every year.… And that’s just my mentality.”
Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Woodyard has the knack for using his instincts as he plays, rather than just relying on talent alone. He has seen that trait in some of the great players he has coached before who had long careers, mentioning the likes of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Junior Seau.
“What they’ve all got in common is they’re all pros. They take care of their body. They know how to take care of their body and they study and study, and if they have a shortcoming in any area, they know how to overcome that shortcoming,” Pees said. “We all get older and we all get slower. It’s all going way, but the guys that know how to handle that, they all play smarter as they get older, and don’t rely as much on their talent as their instincts. And Wesley is definitely in that same caliber.”
And there might be other things that keep Woodyard feeling and playing young. Being one of the old guys in the linebacker room, surrounded by young pups like Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans.
“There are some young guys in that room. I think they may keep him young. I think Jayon (Brown) and Rashaan (Evans) and Batesy (Daren Bates) to an extent probably keep him pretty young in there,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said.
And the other part of that is the preparation Woodyard puts in, and simply just his love of the game.
“I’m surrounded by a bunch of great guys that I love to go to work with every week. They make my job easier, showing up to work. I enjoy being here. And most importantly, I’ve had the chance to learn and take bits and pieces from a lot of people that I’ve come across in this game of football. Now I just go out and do what I do. I love the game the game, and I can go play out there and be free,” Woodyard said.
Vrabel said those qualities appear readily evident in the way Woodyard approaches things.
“I think he studies. I think he’s a great leader. I think he enjoys—he loves football. When you love football, it makes it easy to come to work,” Vrabel said.