By Paul Thomas
SUWANEE — After Tuesday’s practice, Collins Hill football head coach Lenny Gregory’s message was clear to the freshman players in attendance. He told the younger players that if they didn’t get it done in the classroom they would never see the field as an Eagle.
Fortunately, he has a quartet of seniors to point to as shining examples. Linebacker T.C. Harrison (Virginia), linebacker Jomier Augustine (Army), defensive back Darius Penton (Air Force) and safety Peyton Woulard (Wake Forest) are all standouts in the classroom and have been rewarded with college commitments to play Division I football.
“Do you think I have to ask Peyton Woulard about his grades?” Gregory asked the younger players.
The answer of course is no, no he doesn’t have to check in on the senior’s progress in the classroom. Woulard has a 3.3 GPA and is a defensive captain on the football team.
Gregory calls Woulard the “heartbeat” of the Eagles (1-1) and one of the best athletes he’s ever coached. Most importantly, he sets the standard for the program.
“It’s invaluable,” Gregory said of being able to point to Woulard on and off the field. “As a coach, especially in the first year coming in and trying to change a culture, there’s only so much they’ll listen to you, right? When you’re able to say, ‘Look at the senior. Look at this guy.’ And we have several like him. But when you can do that, it gives the kids an example.”
Academics have also made the recruiting process easier for Woulard to navigate. The Demon Deacons were the first school to offer him a full ride in the spring of his junior season. He verbally pledged to Wake Forest a year later. At the time, he held offers from Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh Duke and several other Power 5 schools as well.
Over the summer, Gregory took Woulard and a handful of other players to a camp at the University of Alabama. Woulard was not on the Crimson Tide’s radar prior to the camp, and merely agreed to go because he wanted to learn from the Alabama coaches.
During his workout, Woulard caught the eye of head coach Nick Saban, who invited him up to his office to talk.
“It was intimidating at first, it’s like a dungeon in there,” Woulard said of the five-time national champion’s office.
Woulard loved getting the chance to talk football with Saban, and while he was flattered that the nation’s top program was interested in him, Woulard said it ultimately just re-affirmed that Wake Forest was where he wanted to go.
“It’s tough, because you go to Alabama that’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said. “But I really just had to think about what I’ll do after football because I know it’s not going to last forever. So I had to make that decision for myself.”
Woulard cited the smaller student population in Winston Salem, N.C. and the chance to help the program build on its momentum as the other factors as to why he stuck with Wake Forest.
With his recruitment closed, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound safety, who also plays receiver for Collins Hill, can now focus on ending his senior season the right way. Woulard has played in the Collins Hill program since he was 6, and has worked his way into one of its best players.
Last season, he had 79 tackles and two interceptions on defense.
“He’s got natural ball skills and he’s smooth,” Gregory said. “He covers so much field. He’s just a natural player. He loves football and he’s extremely intelligent. You can’t lack intelligence and be great in the secondary. Bill Belichick talks about that all the time.”
Woulard has also become an offensive weapon for the Eagles. Last season he had just 89 yards receiving and one touchdown.
This season he already has 81 yards receiving, highlighted by a 65-yard touchdown catch against Shiloh in the season opener.
He’ll play defensive back in college, so Woulard calls the chance to play offense this season “a reward.” His athleticism and work ethic are traits that come naturally to him.
His father, David Woulard, was a Division I-AA second-team All-American linebacker for Mississippi Valley State University in 1990. He was also named to Trailblazers’ All-Decade team for the ’90s last year. David currently works three jobs, including as a juvenile probation officer.
Football has always been the tie that binds the Woulards together, even if David is a Miami Dolphins fan and Peyton is a Washington Redskins fan.
“I just look up to him,” Peyton said of his father. “He works three jobs. He’s a hard-working dude and I want to be like him.”
Turns out being a good example is just another trait that Peyton comes by naturally.