STEWART — Brad Woodson walked around the weight room at Federal Hocking High School on Wednesday, putting the Lancers through a station by station workout.
For 30 minutes, the Lancers in attendance put in work while Woodson yelled out instruction and encouragement while rain poured down outside.
“It’s the enthusiasm,” Woodson said. “If the coach doesn’t bring the energy, there won’t be any. You have to be a model for them. The team becomes the head coach. If the coach is not enthusiastic, doesn’t have it, then the team won’t have it.”
Woodson was hired recently as the head football coach at Federal Hocking. He is the Lancers’ third coach in the last four seasons, as he will try to direct a turnaround in Stewart.
Woodson has 34 years of coaching under his belt, most spent in central Ohio at Centennial and Groveport Madison.
Woodson is certainly no stranger to Athens County, however. A 1982 graduate of Nelsonville-York High School, Woodson was a key member of the Buckeyes’ 1981 state championship football team and is in N-Y’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
Making a return to Athens County was an intriguing opportunity for Woodson.
“The reason why it attracted me was, I always wanted to be able to give back (to the area),” Woodson said. “I’ve never had an opportunity.”
Woodson takes over for Jeff Ditty, who won three games the last two seasons including a 2-3 record in 2020’s COVID-shortened season.
Woodson was hired in the spring and is hitting the ground running as the 2021 season approaches. He said building relationships with the players is the most important task at hand as the calendar quickly moves to July.
“Most important thing is to know that someone cares,” Woodson said. “Relationship building. The relationship building is key first and they’re going to test you. Expect that, especially with the things they’ve been through already.”
It was his older brothers, Bill and John Woodson, that helped build him into the player and coach he is now.
His two brothers played at Nelsonville-York for coach Dave Boston Sr. before him, and played a role in molding him into one of the best players in the storied history of the Buckeyes as a fullback and defensive lineman.
“My brothers were my inspiration,” Woodson said. “Wanting to be better and do better.”
Woodson went on to play college football at Bluffton University, which also helped spark his career in coaching.
“When I got to college is really when I learned about coaching, the ins and outs of it, the relationships,” he said. “It’s more than just an athlete and what you can do for me. It’s how I can help you? And that’s what I want these young players to know.”
Woodson started coaching at Centennial in 1991, and coached everything from football, to girls’ basketball, softball, baseball and track and field.
Woodson also coached at Eastmoor Academy, but it was at Groveport Madison where he coached current NFL players Le’Veon Bell as well as Jacksonville’s Dawuane Smoot.
Now at Federal Hocking, Woodson said he is committed to taking the steps needed to turn around the Lancers’ football program. One of the first steps has been getting new jerseys and up-to-date equipment.
“Making sure they have up-to-date things,” Woodson said. “From girdles, to shoulder pads, to helmets, everything that everyone else has.”
The Lancers had lost 40 games in a row before winning the 2019 season opener against Hundred, in West Virginia.
Federal Hocking was able to follow that up with wins against Paden City and Hannan last year — both West Virginia high schools.
There is still work to be done though in the Lancers’ rebuilding project. They had 20 players for grades 7 through 12 at Wednesday’s workout, as numbers have been one of the biggest issues for the past decade.
Federal Hocking hasn’t played 10 games in a season since 2017, and hasn’t completed a season since 2018.
The 2019 season was stopped due to a lack of healthy players after six games, and the final three games were canceled last year after a 40-14 loss to Green.
“We’re learning to be a team,” Woodson said. “As you saw tonight, that’s my emphasis. My goal is get through a season. How long has it been since they completed a season? That’s all. Get through the season. I’m confident we will. However long it takes, how much time, I’m here. I’m glad to have the opportunity to do that.”
The 2021 season is the second in a row in which they Lancers won’t take part in a Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division schedule, a move made to try and rebuild the program.
The Lancers currently have seven games scheduled for 2021 — home games against Miller, Belpre, and Linden McKinely, and road games against Holgate, Bridgeport. Federal Hocking will play twice against Millersport, another program trying to rebuild, once at home and once on the road.
Woodson said he likes the Lancers’ schedule setup.
“Right now, we want to be competitive,” he said. “We don’t need to play a team that returns 19 or 17 people. We’re not going to be competitive with that. We have to learn to walk before we can run.”
The first game is scheduled for Aug. 28 at Holgate. In the meantime, the Lancers will take part in passing scrimmages for the first time since 2018, and will host a passing scrimmage on July 24.
Woodson emphasized his dedication to not only turning around the program, but helping to set up the Lancers for life after football.
“You get to high school and you only get four years, and more importantly, I’m hoping that I can help them branch and spread out to think outside the box,” Woodson said. “This is just a game. That’s all it is. I use it as a way of teaching. So when they graduate, they have an idea of what they want to do whether it be military, whether they get married, whether they get a job, go to school. Whatever it is, I believe the coach is obligated to help them do that.”