Flag football never interested David Woodward.
As a spry first-grader, he persuaded his father to let him try something else.
“He was asking me if I wanted to play flag, and I said ‘No. I want to play tackle,’ ” Woodward said.
It spurred many father-son exchanges in which Mel Woodward rapidly learned the sport held a strong allure for his son.
“We had a bunch of weird conversations,” he said. “I remember one, (David) was in fourth grade and we were heading to Tenino, and he asked me why we didn’t have football all year-round.”
Because players would be more prone to injury, and most probably wouldn’t want to play 12 months straight, Mel explained.
Though, if anyone could play football year-round — or want to — it might be David. At just about any position.
The Olympia High School standout is one of the most dominating safeties in the state, but also puts up big numbers on offense.
“I like defense better than offense,” Woodward said. “I’d rather get a big hit than a touchdown.”
Well, he recorded plenty of both.
With his team-leading 71 tackles, four interceptions and 1,921 yards — rushing, receiving, passing and returning — for 15 total touchdowns, Woodward has been selected as The Olympian’s All-Area Football Player of the Year.
Also the Class 4A Narrows Offensive Player of the Year and a first-team selection at defensive back and return specialist, Woodward is often recognized for his magnetism to the ball — and his aggression.
“He likes to run downhill and he’ll hit you,” Olympia coach Bill Beattie said. “I know there’s a lot of high school kids that did not want to run routes with David sitting back there, because he’s going to smack you.”
The energy has been building for a while.
Woodward missed his entire junior season with two fractured vertebra. He was initially injured when Olympia played Central Kitsap midway through his sophomore season.
As a personal protector on a punt, Woodward collided with a defensive end.
“I twisted when I went to hit him and heard a pop in my back,” Woodward said. “My back was hurt the rest of the season, and then I played basketball and track, and it was just getting progressively worse.”
The decisive moment came at a Northwest Elite camp the summer before Woodward’s junior season. During a one-on-one drill an opponent made a cut, and when Woodward tried to turn in response his back popped again.
“It was difficult,” his father said. “The biggest decision was pretty much talking to him and discussing that he could prolong an injury (if he kept playing). There were kids telling him you could be good in a month or two months, and (his mother and I) talking to the doctor and breaking the news to him.”
He would have to wear a brace for about four months.
And to avoid a permanent back injury, football was out of the question.
“As I was getting through it, as the months went on, I knew I’d have to get back and work hard — harder than I ever had before,” Woodward said.
The first day he was cleared, he started working out again, and played basketball and ran track — he’s a decathlete — in preparation for his final football season at Olympia.
“The team was counting on me last year before I got hurt … so senior year, I knew I’d have to come out and be a big part of the team for us to be successful,” Woodward said.
And a big part in all phases he was.
Woodward led the Bears to a 7-3 finish and a 4A district-playoff berth, picking up yardage about anywhere possible.
Rushing? He carried the ball 92 times for 727 yards.
Receiving? He snagged 31 catches for 484 yards.
Passing? He quarterbacked the Wildcat offense and was 10 of 15 for 221 yards.
Kick returning? Another 489 yards with a touchdown.
“You don’t really know where he is and then, when you see the pile get up, he’s there,” Beattie said. “You don’t see him and the ball is in the air, and the next thing you know, he’s there. He comes out of nowhere, he accelerates toward the ball so well.”
Woodward is currently uncommitted next year, though he’s had attention from Eastern Washington, Utah State, Portland State and a few other schools.
Shane Simmons, a family friend and Kentlake graduate who was a News Tribune All-Area selection in 2003, sees plenty of potential in Woodward at the college level, and, perhaps, the level after that.
Woodward has NFL ambitions — the Cincinnati Bengals if he had his choice — which Simmons, who saw time in the NFL with the Raiders and Seahawks, doesn’t rule out.
“I think anybody can create an opportunity for himself,” Simmons said. “David’s got a good head on his shoulders.”
And a nose for football.
“He’s definitely athletically gifted,” Beattie said. “And his desire to be great is huge.”