Humble Eagle, Chadron's Woodhead Wins Harlon Hill

Dec. 15, 2006

By Douglas Kroll



Doug Kroll is an editor for, focusing on baseball.
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FLORENCE, Ala. - Of the three finalists for the 21st annual Harlon Hill Trophy, Chadron State's Danny Woodhead would have been the one that people overlooked during two-a-days in the August heat. But the 5-foot-9, 200-pound running back made this year's race a laugher.


It wasn't Woodhead's ability that would have made him stick out from the trio of Grand Valley State QB Cullen Finnerty, and Pittsburg State RB Germaine Race, as he had been a nominee in his first two collegiate seasons; it was what happened to him before the season and what almost happened that made this year so unexpected.


Woodhead suffered from herniated disks in his back, which left him out of spring practice barely able to do any physical activity, even jogging. Without the help of some staff and doctors, he certainly wouldn't have been in Florence Friday.


"I honestly was just thinking that I wanted to play," Woodhead said. "I went out for about two or three months without even jogging. At times it even hurt to walk. Without the help of the trainers and especially my chiropractor, I wouldn't be here today."


Having something happen to your body can be frustrating, but not as frustrating as what Mother Nature can do. A week or two before Woodhead was set to return to the town he loves from his North Platte, Neb. home, multiple lightning strikes in the plains sparked fires in the area around the school. Over 900 residents had to flee the fires, and then the rumors started to fly about what was going on at Chadron State College.  Woodhead heard them all.


"When there was a fire at Chadron before the season," Woodhead remembered, "I was a little bit nervous that I wouldn't have a school to go to. Once I caught wind of it, I started panicking. There were so many different stories I heard, whether that it was on the game field, on the college already, but it actually stopped just short of the practice field."


With that in mind, Woodhead went on to break an NCAA all-divisions single-season rushing record with 2,756 yards and scored 38 touchdowns this season. He was tops in Division II in rushing, scoring, and all-purpose yards. Probably most important of all to Woodhead, was the fact that he led his team to a perfect 11-0 mark in the regular season and a trip to the quarterfinals. 


After all, without the big linemen carving holes, Woodhead would have nothing.


"The key to my success is the people around me," Woodhead said.  "Whether it's my offensive line or the receivers or the quarterback, because they all play a role, whether it's passing to put the defense back a little bit so we can run, or the line just blocking.  That's the main key."


On a night that saw Chicago Bears great Harlon Hill miss the banquet for the trophy that bears his name, it was refreshing to see such a humble Woodhead win it. Not only is he the Most Outstanding Player in Division II, he would barely acknowledge the feats in which he had accomplished--making him one of the more modest award winners on record.


With a crowd of 400 on hand, the kid who was only given one other scholarship offer (from fellow D-II school Nebraska-Omaha) received 187 total points in the voting and held an 87-point margin over Finnerty who finished second. Race finished third with 85 points. 


So will he be thinking about a repeat next year? Not with humbleness on his side.


"I don't think I'll be thinking about it," Woodhead said. "Maybe some other people might be thinking about it a little bit, but my main goal is to win a national championship. Northwest Missouri decided to ruin that for me, but I'm happy the way the season went and hopefully we can do some more damage next year."


News and Notes:


- Before the Harlon Hill presentation, three new members were inducted into the Division II Hall of Fame.  Entering the exclusive company were former North Alabama QB Cody Gross (who held an all-divisions record for winningest quarterback in history until Cullen Finnerty broke that this year), and former NFLers Sean Landeta and John Randle. Landeta attended Towson, while Randle was a Javelina at Texas A&M-Kingsville. 


- Of the over 300,000 players to play Division II football in 34 years, only 20 are now in the Hall of Fame.  That is exclusive company. The most notable name would be the late Walter Payton.


- The Harlon Hill trophy weighs an astonishing 65-pounds. Woodhead joked that he wasn't big enough to carry such a big trophy.


- Woodhead was the first non-QB to win the trophy since 1998 when Emporia State's Brian Shay was the D-II Player of the Year.



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