At 5-foot-6, Darren Sproles carved out a successful NFL career with his speed and unquestioned work ethic.
Amani Woods hopes to follow in the diminutive running back’s footsteps.
The St. Anne’s-Belfield running back put together a standout performance last Friday during the Saints’ 57-22 victory over North Carolina’s Faith Christian School.
The 5-foot-7, 180-pound junior running back rushed for a career high 236 yards and scored five touchdowns to lead STAB to a victory over the reigning North Carolina 8-man state champions. He also chipped in an interception on defense.
That performance was worthy of The Daily Progress’ Athlete of the Week honors.
“Every time I get the ball, I am trying to hit the hole as hard and as fast I can, to run it all the way to the end zone,” Woods said.
Woods’ football career began at the age of 9 as a member of the Waynesboro Little Giants youth football league. In addition, he also played basketball, baseball and soccer growing up, giving him a well-rounded athletic experience.
“When I was growing up, I loved to play a variety of sports and I still do,” Woods said. “I like football the most because I just like hitting people. I like having the big crowd cheering and chanting your name and I just love playing under the lights on Friday nights.”
He joined the varsity football program at STAB three years ago and has been a fixture in Coach John Blake’s squad each season.
“I love playing for Coach Blake,” Woods said. “He always tells the team we have to make the most out of every opportunity, so every time I get the ball, it is an opportunity to score. Playing for Coach Blake, I feel that you need to have great vision and be able to hit the hole. Coach Blake likes to run the ball a lot.”
Last fall, Woods emerged as the featured back in the Saints’ offense. He rushed for 970 yards on 128 carries and scored 12 touchdowns. A first team all-state performer, Woods was a key contributor for a STAB team that reached the VISFL 8-man state championship game.
Woods said that making the switch from 11-man to 8-man football last season was not that big of a deal.
“Eight-man is not much different than 11-man football,” he said. “The field is just more open. If you come to watch an eight-man game, you better be ready for a lot of scoring. Eight-man is also faster paced, I think. There is really no challenging part about eight man [football]. It is just like 11-man, you have to stay in shape, tackle and be able to score.”
Last summer, Woods dedicated himself to getting better in all aspects of football. He worked on his footwork and increasing his speed. He also spent time in the film room, breaking down defenses.
“During the offseason, when I would work on my footwork, cuts and vision and I think that is showing on the field so far,” he said. “I also made sure I was running every day to stay in shape. “Knowing Coach Blake’s offensive style, I worked hard this summer to study film, work on my footwork and work with a trainer on increasing my speed. “
Woods improved physically too. He grew an inch and put on 10 pounds of muscle to help prepare him for the grind of the season.
“I think the most underrated part of my game is my power,” he said. “Just because I’m not the biggest back does not mean I won’t lower my shoulder and run you over.”
Blake said that hard work was rewarded last Friday against Faith Christian.
“Amani was chosen to be a game captain last Friday because of the work he put in both in the weight room throughout last spring and summer, as well as his work in preseason practice,” Blake said. “He comes to work hard every day.”
Woods emulates his running style after former Pittsburgh Steelers and current New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell.
“I am a Pittsburgh fan and watching how patient he is and how he follows his blocks is crazy,’ Woods said. “He also has some speed on him too.”
Off the field, Woods said he enjoys lifting weights and working on his footwork in his backyard, as well as watching football. His favorite subject in school is Biology and is favorite television show is “The Punisher” on Netflix.
When Woods isn’t scoring touchdowns or making linebackers, you can find him in his home away from home — the kitchen.
“Most people don’t know that I can actually cook a little bit,” Woods said. “I like to cook barbecue chicken, chicken alfredo and any type of breakfast food.”
Woods said he started cooking when he was seven and chicken alfredo is his specialty.
“During football season I don’t cook a lot because I live 30 minutes away from STAB,” he said. “But in the summer, I cook a lot for family.”
This season, Woods and backfield mate Gabe Decker hope to do plenty of cooking against opposing defenders. The duo served as the Saints’ top options in the running game last season the two players thrive of one another.
“It motivates me to keep working and get better so my team and I can come out with the win,” Woods said. “Gabe and I make sure to push each other in practice and to go at each other as hard as we can to make each other better”
That was evident last Friday as Woods and his teammates were pumped for their season opener.
“Everyone was very hype to play this game,” he said. “Everyone wanted to win. We did not want to feel what we felt last year when we lost. They are a very talented team. I give all the credit to the line and Gabe. They were the guys giving me the holes to run through.”
Blake couldn’t have been happier for Woods.
“Amani had a great game Friday,” Blake said. “His vision and patience were very impressive. He is really turning into an elite back. Bottom line is Amani has gotten bigger, faster and stronger. He made some moves the other night that just made their best players miss. He has really come a long way.”