NASHVILLE – Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard made the rounds on Radio Row during Super Bowl LIII week, and at the height of the day he probably felt like he was walking through Times Square in New York City.
In the middle of the madness, the sight of someone stopped him in his tracks.
Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins was that someone.
“That was my mentor, and teammate right there,” Woodyard said following a long embrace, and chat with Dawkins. “That’s one of those guys that I say if you are not changing the game for a positive, then you are doing the game a disservice. Dawk taught me a lot about the mental part of the game. I learned so much trying to play like him, tackle like him.
“He made such a great impact on my game, and my life.”
Woodyard and Dawkins were teammates for three seasons, from 2009-11, with the Broncos. Dawkins was at the end of a 16-year career that started back in 1996, while Woodyard was just getting started, signed as an undrafted free agent by the Broncos in 2008.
Woodyard, who just finished his 11th NFL season, and his fifth with the Titans, credits Dawkins and fellow Hall of Famer Champ Bailey for showing him the way. Their influence on the young linebacker helped make him the player, and leader, he is today, Woodyard said.
“For them to come and find the last guy on the roster and just mold him -- and I’m talking about myself -- and take me in as their little brother,” Woodyard said. “B-Dawkins, I’ll never forget he would say: ‘Wood, I see greatness in you, and I am going to pull it out of you.’ I was like, ‘Man, this is Brian Dawkins, I grew up watching him. This is Champ Bailey, I grew up playing tag football saying I am Champ Bailey.’
“People often ask: Why are guys not taking the next step in their career, or why are their careers so short? It is because most guys are blessed to have guys like that in their locker room, who teaches them and shows them the way on and off the field. As a professional, you are not a little kid any more. You have to be able to be a true professional on and off the field. What Dawkins showed me was how to be a family man. How to get my prayer life together, how to be that true role model for everybody in the community that looks for you to be great. And to learn that at an early age, I am truly grateful for that.”
Titans second-year linebacker Jayon Brown said Woodyard is paying it forward.
Brown said Woodyard has been that guy for him in Tennessee, where the team has a number of young linebackers who can learn from the veteran. During his rookie season, linebacker Rashaan Evans also praised Woodyard for his leadership.
“Wood helps me out so much with just little techniques and tips,” Brown said. “He is so smart, and he helps me out so I can better my game each and every week whenever he sees I can improve on something.
“When we are watching film, “He’ll say, 'Hey Jay, next time try this out in practice and see how it works.' Just tips on blitzing from different angles, stuff like that.”
Woodyard, who led the Titans with 124 tackles in 2018 while also posting 4.5 sacks and 12 quarterback pressures, vowed to continue being a leader moving forward.
Woodyard has been a captain every season in the NFL. He’s been a Community Man of the Year four times in his career, including in 2017 in Tennessee.
In his mind, he learned from the best.
“After guys like Dawk helped me,” Woodyard said, “I could never be that guy in the locker room who is not going to be pouring into the younger guys.”
TitansOnline.com looks back at linebacker Wesley Woodyard's 2018 season. (AP Photos)