Danny Woodhead is a former NFL player who hails from North Platte. He defied the odds because he played in the NFL without playing for a Division I college. And, at 5-foot-8-inches, he is shorter than the average NFL player.
Danny shared his story at the Nebraska Children’s Home Society’s 125th Anniversary Celebration, and Nebraska Family Magazine was one of the proud sponsors for that event. God blessed Danny with unbelievable athletic talents and a passion for football, but Danny credits much of his success from listening to God and waiting for doors to open. And, there was something else that also played a major role in his 10-year career in the NFL.
Danny’s Early Years
When Danny was a young child, he remembers drawing a football field with markers on the carpet of his parent’s rental home.
I can only imagine the shocked look on his mom’s face as she wondered how she could find a carpet stain remover for an entire football field!
Danny also wrote numbers on the on the backs of all of his GI Joes and other action figures to make them into football players.
“Not saying I was supposed to be a football player, but that was a good start,” Danny joked.
Although Danny’s dad was a teacher and coach, they homeschooled their children.
“They homeschooled their children because they felt like that was what God wanted them to do,” Danny said.
It wasn’t always easy for a public school teacher to explain why he was homeschooling his children, but their actions helped lay the foundation for Danny to listen to God’s voice in his life even if it might be difficult to follow.
Because he was homeschooled, Danny didn’t play school sports or organized football games until high school. Instead, he played backyard football any chance he could get.
“I loved sports,” Danny said. “That’s kind of what kept me going.”
By the time he was a sophomore in high school, he was the starting running back, and his team had a successful season. They lost the championship game, but Danny said he was grateful for the opportunity to play on a successful team with his dad as a coach and his brother also on the team.
Danny was named the Omaha World-Herald’s athlete of the year for 2004. At the time, he was Nebraska Class A’s all-time leading rusher.
And, like many high school football players from Nebraska, he wanted to play for the Huskers.
But, that offer never came.
That was a hard time in Danny’s life.
“The thing I was so thankful for was that my parents were there for me,” Danny said. They told him that maybe Division I football wasn’t what God wanted for him.
“They said let’s just pray that God will open up a door, and you just walk through it,” Danny said. “Well, the door that I walked through became Chadron State.”
College Years and NFL
Danny had early success at Chadron State. By the third game of his freshman season, he was the starting running back.
“It’s not memorial stadium playing in front of 80,000 people,” Danny said of Chadron. “You had a big crowd if it was 4,000. But, it was the best thing that could have happened. I went there and worked my tail off.”
Danny broke all kinds of records at Chadron State and won the prestigious Harlon Hill Trophy in 2006 and 2007. That award is given to the most valuable player in NCAA Division II. It is the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy in Division I football.
Danny majored in math education while at Chadron State and continued to date his longtime girlfriend, Stacia. They started dating as freshmen in high school.
His success on the football field in high school gave him a glimmer of hope for a possible future career in the sport. But, he wasn’t invited to the NFL combine. He did get a second chance when Tom Osborne invited him to UNL to show his skills to NFL scouts. But, he still wasn’t drafted.
Again, he was reminded, “Everything happens for a reason, just keep going through the open door.”
The New York Jets called and offered him a chance to play for them. He walked through that door, but then injuries soon sidelined him, and he thought the doors to the NFL were closed. He drove back home to Nebraska and was trying to figure out his next step. Then, the Patriots called, and he walked through another door.
“I remember scoring my first touchdown after three days of practice and sitting down with my wife and saying what just happened?” Danny said.
That door gave him the opportunity of a lifetime – to play in the Super Bowl in 2012, where his entire family came to watch and witnessed him score a Super Bowl touchdown.
Retiring From Football
Danny later played for the San Diego Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens until he retired from the NFL earlier this year.
He and his wife and four children now live in the Omaha area. Danny said he wants to focus on raising his kids and spending more time with his family.
He wants to be there for his children like his parents were for him.
“The thing that is constant in my whole story is my family,” Danny said. “The way I was raised is that faith comes first. I wanted to focus on that because that’s what my parents told me. The second thing that was important to me is that my family was always present.”
Danny said his parents attended all of his games (until he got into the NFL) and were always present to talk to him and help him make decisions.
“I was fortunate that I had an unbelievable steady family,” he said. “They were always there in a heartbeat. They loved me whether I played football or if I was a teacher. I had a family that always loved me no matter what. I wouldn’t be who I am without my family.”
Danny said he won’t pressure his kids into playing sports but will support them if they want to play. He will continue to let God direct his life and realizes that God is also in control of the lives of his children.
“I think the biggest thing in my career and my life is knowing that God is in control,” Danny said.
And, he is prayfully waiting to see what door opens next.