One of the all-time greats in the history of football was on the Napa High School practice field for a few minutes on Wednesday, encouraging the players in a youth skills camp to work hard, have fun and be a good teammate.
Napa High head coach Troy Mott introduced Oakland Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson — the veteran of 15 NFL seasons, the eight-time Pro Bowler, the recipient of the 1997 Heisman Trophy, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Woodson is in town, ready to start training camp with the Raiders at their summer complex at Redwood Middle School. Woodson rejoined the Raiders — the team with which he began his professional career in 1998, the fourth overall selection in the NFL Draft following a record-setting career at Michigan — in May.
Walking off the field yesterday after addressing the young players, Woodson said, “Like I told them, I started here as well. You started here as well. We all had a starting point.
“It’s good to talk to them, to tell them a little bit about how I think.”
Woodson has played in 206 career games with 203 starts, and ranks second among active players with 55 interceptions. His career totals also include 17 sacks, 24 forced fumbles and 11 interceptions returned for touchdowns, which is second-most in NFL history.
“His message was simple, it was clear, it was positive,” said Paul Gassner, Napa’s defensive coordinator, who is working at the week-long youth camp. “I thought it was fantastic. Another message that he gave was that if you work hard, it’s contagious to the guy next to you, to your teammate — and he’s a living example of that. You saw the kids, their eyes on him the entire time, listening to every word, soaking it in.”
Woodson played in 106 games with 103 starts with the Raiders from 1998-2005. He totaled 17 interceptions during his time in Oakland, and was named the 1998 Defensive Rookie of the Year after recording five interceptions and earning his first Pro Bowl selection in his first professional campaign. Woodson led the Raiders to three straight AFC West titles from 2000-02, and started for the Silver and Black and notched an interception in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Woodson signed with the Packers as an unrestricted free agent in 2006, and started 100 games in seven seasons in Green Bay. He recorded 38 interceptions and returned nine picks for touchdowns during his time with the Packers, earning first-team All-Pro honors in 2009 and 2011. Woodson was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year after tying for the NFL lead with nine interceptions and returning a career-high three picks for touchdowns.
In 2012, Woodson moved from cornerback to safety but had his season cut short to seven games due to a broken collarbone suffered at St. Louis on Oct. 21. Prior to his injury, Woodson had started at least 14 games in 10 of his previous 12 seasons.
“It’s a blessing, but it doesn’t just happen by chance,” Woodson said of his pro career. “It’s a lot of hard work, a couple of lucky turns here and there. I’m happy to be back here in the silver and black.”
He wants to inject a winning attitude with the Raiders, who start practices on Friday. Players reported to camp yesterday, the organization’s 18th year in Napa. The team stays at the Napa Valley Marriott.
The Raiders were just 4-12 last year and have not had a winning season since 2002.
“It’s been a long time since they’ve had a winning season around here, but all my life I’ve been a winner,” said Woodson. “Regardless of circumstances, regardless of record, I’ve always come out and played with that winning attitude. That’s what I want to bring.”
Woodson said he believes in Reggie McKenzie, the team’s general manager.
“Reggie was very instrumental in bringing me to Green Bay. I do believe in what he’s doing. You’ve just got to get the right pieces in and I think they have done a good job of getting some guys in here that are going to be hungry, guys that probably feel like they still have to prove themselves, and that’s a good thing.
“We’ll come in and we’ll work together in order to turn this thing around.”
The Raiders will be here for 41⁄2 weeks, preparing and getting ready for the long haul of a season.
You have got to be mentally prepared in camp, said Woodson.
“If you’re mentally prepared and you know where you’re supposed to be, you kind of save yourself physically a little bit,” he said. “But if you go out there and you don’t know what you’re supposed to do, you waste a lot of energy. The main part of it is the mental part of the game.
“It’s understanding what the defensive coordinator expects of you. If you don’t know where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re not going to be on the field. If the coach puts you out there for a rep, he’s going to see that. You’ve got to know what you’re doing in order to stay on the field.”
The 21⁄2 practice fields have a pristine, glossy look. Blockling sleds, tackling dummies and other equipment are set up around the facility, which also has a fieldhouse. Bleachers are set up on the west side of the complex for eligible season ticket holders.
“For me, it’s going to be somewhat of a homecoming, stepping back on the field, into training camp, so I look forward to it,” said Woodson.
Rod Streater, a second-year player, said he is looking to be a complete receiver and earn a roster spot.
“You’ve got to go out here, execute, show the guys that you’re consistent, you know your playbook and you know everything. You’ve go to do everything right,” Streater said upon arriving. “Football is back, so I’m ready to go. I’m trying to be a leader.”
Players have physicals and meetings today. Friday’s first practice is from 8:50 to 11:40 a.m.