CORTLAND, N.Y. - The adulation might not be quite on the Leon Washington level, not with someone who's yet to play in a meaningful game as a pro.
Danny Woodhead's popularity with some Jets fans is already off the charts, though, and many have fallen in love with the Nebraska native who's generously listed at 5-9, an undersize running back who's had to beat the odds stacked against him his entire football life.
"Man, he's a warrior," Washington said. "That guy, man, every play he goes out there and he really puts 110 percent in every play he does. He's a heck of a player. He's the NCAA all-time leading rusher. So running the ball, you know he can do that. He's got tremendous heart, so us small guys have that 'little man syndrome.' We stand 5-foot-8 and we really look like we're 6-foot-5."
Woodhead, picked up by the Jets as an undrafted free agent in May 2008, probably looked like a 6-5, 220-plus pound beast to opponents during his heyday at Division II Chadron (Neb.) State. A two-time winner of the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is D-II's version of the Heisman, he gobbled up a then-NCAA record 7,962 rushing yards and his 9,749 all-purpose yards remains an NCAA record. So does his single-season total of 2,756 rushing yards in 2006, and he also tied the all-time mark with 109 career touchdowns.
All those gaudy numbers now mean little to Woodhead - "I don't want to get caught up in stupid stuff like stats," he said. "That's just not who I am." - but the Jets were intrigued with his ability. They brought him in and he tore up his left knee in training camp a little less than three months later. He had season-ending surgery. His rookie season was done before it even began.
"It was tough," Woodhead said. "I never went through an injury like that. Things like that happen. If something like that happens and you are mad - I mean, I was mad - but it comes with football and you can't do anything but rehab it and get better. That's what I was focused on, was getting better for this year and I really feel I did."
His workload began increasing in the spring, when Washington and fellow running back Thomas Jones were boycotting organized team activities (OTAs) because of contract squabbles. The experience was invaluable, considering Woodhead spent most of the 2008 season simply attending meetings while on injured reserve.
Throughout training camp, Woodhead has proven he can do multiple things. Whether it's pinballing his way between the tackles, catching a pass out of the backfield or lining up as a wide receiver, he's been getting his share of work with the reserves. He's also lining up on special teams and special teams coach Mike Westhoff will give Woodhead a shot to see where he fits in. "We think he can be a factor in a lot of different areas," Westhoff said.
Woodhead might have the best set of hands of anyone in the Jets' stable of running backs and his versatility should aid his bid to find a spot on the roster.
"He's trying to find his own role," Rex Ryan said. "He's out there. He works every day. Like I've said, he's got great hands. He's tough. We'll see how he does. The lack of size is going to hurt him in pass protection, but he's hard to cover. It's, 'Do you get him out on routes or do different things?' All I know is, he's as competitive as it gets and he has a chance to make our football team."