HUNTINGTON — When Joe Woodrum first walked on at Marshall, it was his second year playing football. Anywhere, any level.
The Bluefield native looked like that for quite a while, too. Ask tight ends coach Todd Hartley, who took over the position in the spring of 2013, as Woodrum prepared to be a redshirt sophomore.
“I saw a big, tall kid with a large frame who was stiff as a board,” Hartley recalled. “Couldn’t catch, never played a lot of football in his life. And now the work and the investment that he has put in to become a better player, and to take himself from a walk-on to a scholarship kid that’s actually going to contribute for us, is a testament to how hard he’s worked his butt off.
“And now he’s a kid that is 255 pounds. He can take a Ra’Shawde Myers on a power play and plant him in the ground. There’s not many people who can say they can do that.”
Indeed, the 6-foot-6 junior has come a long way in football. It wasn’t that long ago that he was home-schooled, and had been for a decade-plus. He had to persuade his mother to allow him to attend Bluefield High to play …
Basketball. Hey, he is 6-6, right?
He did so as a junior and planned to play hoops exclusively as a senior. His friends wanted him to add a sport.
“The guys talked me into playing football my senior year of high school,” he said. “They talked to me a lot and I said, ‘Nah, I don’t want to do it. I’m more into basketball.’ They [kept pushing], so I did and the rest is pretty much history.”
A long, difficult history, at that. As any current and former walk-on can attest — remember, most walk-ons do not stick around past a year or two — you have to genuinely love the game.
Woodrum said he caught about 25 passes for coach Fred Simon’s 10-2 Beavers, not a number to sneeze at in run-heavy West Virginia high school football. He caught the football bug.
“I really enjoyed it. I was talking with my parents and I said, ‘I want to stick with this football thing,’ ” Woodrum said. “So we got the little bit of highlight film I had from that one year, sent it out to different schools. Contacted Marshall and asked if they had seen the film and they said they did.
“My dad talked to the tight end coach at the time, Phil Ratliff. They watched the film and [Ratliff] decided he’d give me a position to walk on. It was late in the [academic] season, too, and I played only one year. It was hard to get recruited, but luckily they gave me an opportunity and here I am, today.”
Woodrum has put in a lot of special-teams work in the last two years, especially as an end on the field goal/extra-point unit. He caught a single pass, a 26-yarder in the season opener against Miami (Ohio).
But he played a fair number of tight end snaps, got his bench press up to 400 pounds in the offseason and continues to win the confidence of his coaches. The recent move of Devon Johnson to running back speaks volumes.
There are four tight ends on the roster — Eric Frohnapfel, Deon-Tay McManus, Woodrum and freshman Ryan Yurachek. All will likely travel to road games, even if coaches try to redshirt Yurachek.
And Woodrum won the ultimate vote of confidence this month: a scholarship.
“It’s been a long process, but throughout the years I’ve just been working my butt off,” he said. “And I’ve been watching the older guys in front of me — Eric Frohnapfel, he came in with me but he’s a year older than me because I was redshirted; Harold Hoskins, great tight end in the [National Football] League right now.
“My aspirations are high and I want to be just like them.”
Reach Doug Smock at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5130 or follow @DougSmock on Twitter.