The second installment of our “Bolts Back in the Day” series takes us to the opposite end of the size spectrum. Going from 6’8, 340-pound left tackle Marcus McNeill all the way to 5-9, 200-pound running back Danny Woodhead.
Woodhead is the pride and joy of Chadron State University, a Division II school in the state of Nebraska. While at Chadron, Woodhead broke numerous school records and set a litany of NCAA records before graduating. As a freshman in 2004, he rushed for 1,840 yards after becoming the first player to have a scholarship in the 96-year history of the program. In his second season, he rushed for 1,740 yards and 21 touchdowns, adding another 30 catches for 367 yards.
During his junior year, he set the single-season all-division NCAA record for rushing yards with 2,740 yards. He finished his career with 7,441 yards on the ground and 9,259 total yards from scrimmage. Those numbers put him second in NCAA history behind Brian Westbrook’s 9,512 (Villanova). He also finished as the second player in NCAA history to score 100+ touchdowns in a career. Unsurprisingly, he was the recipient of the Harlon Hill Trophy in 2006 and ‘07, which is Division II’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy.
Despite all of this success, even at the small-school level, Woodhead went undrafted in the 2008 draft before signing a deal with the New York Jets. His rookie season was immediately cut short after being carted off the practice field during training camp as he spent the entire season on IR.
After spending a trio of years with the Patriots, Woodhead signed as a free agent with the Chargers prior to the 2013 season. He established himself as a true dual-threat back in New England, helping the team to a Super Bowl in those three seasons. Woodhead settled in as a complementary player to Ryan Mathews, playing in all 16 games with three starts his first year in San Diego. He rushed for 429 yards and two scores with 605 yards through the air and another six touchdowns. Woodhead missed all but three games in 2014 due to a broken fibula.
In 2015 he put together the best season of his career. While it wasn’t a good year for the Chargers as a team, Woodhead recorded just under 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns. The following year, his last in SD, Woodhead was lost early in the season once again after just two games. He finished his time with the Chargers rushing for 919 yards and five touchdowns with 1,429 receiving yards and 13 scores.
Woodhead, in terms of what he could control, was one of the most reliable players Philip Rivers ever got the chance to play with. He was the Austin Ekeler for Rivers before Ekeler even made a name for himself at Western State University.
He was such a joy to watch and absolutely one of the most popular Chargers of the past decade. He blazed the trail for the Ekelers and the James Whites of the world and carved out a niche that a young player could be inspired by and really strive for.