Deac's learning curve

Woodlief took cue from stars

Staff writerSeptember 2, 2010 

Wake Forest middle linebacker Matt Woodlief remembers arriving on campus in 2006 from Catawba's Bandys High. He would redshirt that year - as do most freshmen who play for Deacons coach Jim Grobe.

But it wasn't a lost year, as he soaked up knowledge and advice from established linebackers like Jon Abbate and Aaron Curry.

"They were big-time guys, big names, but they wanted to help you, so they pulled you aside and talked to you," Woodlief said. "It's really something you appreciate. You might think that guys in that position wouldn't do something like that because of ego, but it was natural to them. That's something that rubbed off on me."

Woodlief, a senior, will be in that leadership role now as Wake Forest opens its season at 6:30 p.m. today against Presbyterian at BB&T Field.

One of four players to start every game on the Deacons' defense last season, Woodlief probably won't start against the Blue Hose. But because of Wake Forest's depth at the linebacker spot - and new position coach Steve Russ' philosophy of shuffling players in and out - he'll see plenty of playing time along with Hunter Haynes, Justin Jackson, Joey Ehrmann, Scott Betros and Riley Haynes.

"I think he's going to use a lot of us in the rotation," Woodlief said. "That way there's always fresh legs in there each series."

Woodlief, who helped Bandys to the N.C. 2-A title game his sophomore season, picked Wake Forest over Virginia Tech, North Carolina, East Carolina and N.C. State. They all wanted him to play fullback, but Woodlief felt more comfortable playing defense in college. So off he went to Wake Forest, a school he said he hadn't even heard of until he was contacted by Deacons coaches after his freshman year in high school.

"I loved it when I got here," Woodlief said. "I like being in small classes. You can meet with the professor if you get in trouble. It' not like the big schools, where you're just a number."

After redshirting as a freshman, Woodlief played on special teams and as a reserve for two seasons before starting last season. His 52 tackles were fourth on the team.

Woodlief might have lost his starting spot to Haynes in the offseason, when he tried to add weight to his 5-foot-11 frame. When Woodlief reached 260 pounds, it affected his speed, something Grobe didn't like seeing.

"That worried me last spring," Grobe said. "He got so big, he lost some of that foot speed, and it bumped him out of his starting position. But he's still going to play a lot of football. He's got his weight down. He's really important to us."

And like Curry (who's now with the Seattle Seahawks) and Abbate before him, Woodlief will help any way he can, whether he's on or off the field.

"Matt was smart enough to pick out guys like Abbate and Curry to watch and emulate," Grobe said. "He picked out the right guys, figuring out what they do. They had a great work ethic."

Woodlief has even carried it a step further. He spent much of his summer back home in Catawba, working out with Bandys players.

"I just want to give back," said Woodlief, spoken like a true Wake Forest linebacker.

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