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Woodson, UK stand to benefit from star QB's return

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2476146.jpegCoach Woodson. That certainly feels a little strange to say.

It seems like just yesterday that Andre' Woodson was shattering school records and notching some of the biggest wins in Kentucky football history.

After a few years spent pursuing a professional career, the decorated quarterback who was instrumental in the emergence of the program as a player has returned to Lexington as a student assistant coach.

"It's been great being back with this program," Woodson said. "Obviously we're continuing to try to build. I think we've got some great players here; obviously the coaches are really great. I just want to be a part of all this and continue to try to bring success."

During his Kentucky playing career, Woodson was a huge part of the Wildcats' success under then-coach Rich Brooks. He was a three-year starter and led UK to consecutive bowl victories in 2006-07, the first time Kentucky had accomplished that feat since Paul "Bear" Bryant roamed the sidelines in the early '50s.

By the end of his time as a Wildcat, Woodson had thrown for 9,360 yards and 81 touchdowns, a school record. During his senior season, he broke the Southeastern Conference record for passing touchdowns with 40 and shattered the NCAA mark for consecutive passes thrown without an interception with 325.

After a stellar college career, Woodson was selected in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. He eventually was placed on the team's practice squad but was cut the following year before being picked up by the Washington Redskins and cut two months later. He then tried to make his way with the UFL's Hartford Colonials, but that didn't work out either.

Faced with the disappointment of the end of his playing days, UK head coach Joker Phillips, Woodson's offensive coordinator during his college days, reached out to his former pupil.

"Once everything didn't work out in Connecticut (with the Hartford Colonials), Joker reached out to me when I came to one of the practices," Woodson said. "We discussed it a little bit, the option of coming back and coaching."

Even though Woodson had come to grips with the fact he wouldn't be playing anymore, he couldn't turn his back on football altogether.

"With me loving the game, I didn't just want to walk away from it completely," Woodson said. "This gives me a chance to be around the players, around the coaches. This is a great opportunity for me to continue to be around the game."

With an eye on the professional ranks, Woodson left school before the end of his senior year to prepare for the NFL Draft without receiving his degree. Returning to campus as a student assistant gives Woodson the opportunity to complete his coursework and graduate, which he plans to do in December.

Woodson intends to go into college coaching full time once he finishes school.

"I would love to stay with coaching," Woodson said. "Whether it will be here or some place else, I don't know that yet."

Although Woodson is getting a great deal out of his return to Kentucky, the relationship is far from one-sided. Woodson is focusing most of his time working with UK's quarterbacks and junior Morgan Newton says he has been a valuable resource.

"Andre' is a proven leader," Newton said. "He took our program to a different level than it was before and having him around will be instrumental in taking this program to another level."

In fact, Woodson's success as a player was a factor in Newton's eventual decision to come to UK. Newton was a high school star during Woodson's UK tenure.

"You could argue that it was the factor," Newton said. "When I came here and saw them beat Louisville (in 2007) and when I saw them beat LSU on TV his senior year, that was huge in my decision making. Just seeing the type of things they did when he was quarterback played a big role."

Newton enters his third season at UK looking to take his game to the next level. He has started and won games when stepping in for the departed Mike Hartline, but has yet to put his stamp on the position.

Woodson was in a similar position after his own sophomore season, having started as a sophomore but having only a sporadically successful season. It was his junior year when he became the elite quarterback that rewrote Kentucky record books.

For Newton there is a lesson to be learned from that.

"There's a lot to be learned," Newton said. "You get another year under your belt; you're able to learn how much work it takes to be a successful player."

Woodson recognizes the lessons that can be gleaned from his development between his sophomore and junior seasons, but says that Newton is grasping a lot of that on his own.

"I think he's kind of realized (what it will take to succeed) on his own," Woodson said. "Having to sit back last year and see Mike take over, I think that helped learn what it's going to take this season."

Woodson would be hard pressed to be any more pleased about what he has seen from Newton so far.

"I think he's come a long way," Woodson said. "Right now, I can tell you watching him on the field right now he's really doing a great job of throwing it, understanding his reads, putting the ball in the places he needs to put it. I think it's a complete difference from what I saw last year, especially in the bowl game, to what I'm seeing now on the practice field. I'm very excited to see what he does this season."

If Newton can even come close to matching what Woodson did in his final two college seasons, it will be safe to say that Coach Woodson played a part.

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