Taking frequent visits, unofficial or otherwise, never really appealed to JT Woods. His recruitment was a slow build with only Ivy League and service academies reaching out initially. Late into his sophomore year at Cibolo Steele High School in Texas, his father convinced him to take a trip to Waco. That visit to Baylor changed everything. He felt at home with new head coach Matt Rhule and his staff. When Woods returned for a second visit he spent more time with secondary coach Fran Brown (now at Georgia) and getting to know the coaching staff. He returned home and the coaches made the next move.
Woods grew up surrounded by high-caliber athletes in football-obsessive Texas. Older brothers, older cousins all played. It was truly a football environment. He became a 3-star recruit but his only Power 5 offer came from Waco. A self-described mama’s boy, Woods said his mother’s only stipulation for college football was her son had to play in Texas. It’s a big enough state and didn’t want to travel any further to watch their son. Woods said Baylor was in his “Goldilocks zone”—far enough from home that his parents wouldn’t be around all the time but close enough they could easily get to each other in case of emergencies. Baylor coaches drove the two-and-a-half hours to San Antonio to meet the Woods family. They all sat in the living room and the coaches slid a folder across to Woods’ parents.
“It’s crazy to talk about because they literally had a folder and said ‘This is our plan for JT in the next four years’ and everything they had in that folder really came to fruition,” Woods told Hail Varsity recently. “Those guys really sat in my living room and the folder was more for my parents. And to reassure my parents that they’re going to take care of me. They have my whole college career planned out. I was just trusting those guys so much because they were family to me, I knew they weren’t going to do me wrong. They were literally like family at that point.”
Woods is now a member of the Los Angeles Chargers, a third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He took time out of his organized team activities schedule to speak with Hail Varsity about his college career playing for current Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule. Woods committed to Baylor on April 30, 2017, less than a month after Rhule’s staff offered him a scholarship and the four-year plan. That plan started with enrolling early. So instead of senior skip days he skipped senior prom and enrolled at Baylor.
“Them having me come in early was a big push, I ended up doing that and it was the best decision I ever made because I was kind of thrown into the fire,” Woods remembered. “I wasn’t babied as a freshman, I had to carry my own weight and they were really, really adamant on us being men. Building us into men, not just football players and from Day One they came to my house and told my parents that and they did that.”
Seven of Nebraska’s 2023 signing class enrolled early this spring. Many of them (like Cameron Lenhardt, Princewill Umanmielen, Maverick Noonan, Syncere Safeeullah and Gunner Gottula) adapted in the spring and showed their potential in the spring game. Woods said along with the learning curve of college football and the system itself came team activities. He and his teammates became closer with trips to water parks and Rhule’s home. Woods and fellow safety Christian Morgan ate their lunches in defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s office to learn the defense. They spent their first spring in Waco learning the defense, adjusting to college football and coming closer.
“You don’t really know football until you learn that you don’t know football. Which is something I didn’t know that I didn’t know,” Woods said. “I was very thankful they took the time to sit down and teach me that because once the season came I’d already known that stuff.”
The work paid off in Woods’ sophomore season. That’s when Baylor won 11 games while falling just shy of upsetting Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship for a spot in the playoff. That’s when Woods said he felt like he truly understood the defensive concepts. All the pieces came together for that defense. It wasn’t the easiest to learn but it put defenders in positions to make plays, the safety explained. That involved trust from the players in the coaching staff and vice versa.
Woods never really considered the NFL until his junior season. Before that he saw football as a way to earn his psychology degree without burdening himself of his parents with student loans. He just graduated in December with aspirations of criminal profiling—learning people and how they think the way they do. He loved his teammates and coaches so it was all fun up until the NFL came into focus. Rhule and his staff left for the NFL before Woods’ junior season at Baylor. He met Snow at the airport after the NFL Combine and Rhule FaceTimed Woods after the San Antonio native became the 79th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Woods stays in touch with his former coaches as he prepares for his second season in the NFL. He’s appreciative for them helping him get from Cibolo to the NFL.
“That whole coaching staff that was with Rhule played a pivotal role in my life, growing up, leaving the house, really being on your own for the first time,” he said. “I want to say how thankful I am to those guys, they’re forever in my heart, always family to me.”