Editor’s note: The Star is counting down the 22 best high school football players in Southern Arizona leading into the season.
Name: Sa’Kylee Woodard
The rundown: Woodard is a 6-foot-3-inch, 280-pound freshman at Canyon del Oro.
Who he is: Dustin Peace lost count of how many Division I players he’s coached in his time as CDO’s head coach.
“Somewhere in the teens,” he said.
Blake Martinez, Ka’Deem Carey, Jared Tevis, Josh Robbins, John Jackson and David Catalano were a handful of names that instantly came to Peace’s mind. But none of them were instant starters as freshmen like Woodard, who’s expected to play defensive tackle and on the offensive line for the Dorados this season.
“He’s probably the first-ever player to get the nod from the beginning and know that he’s going to be a starter,” Peace said. “We’ve had other freshmen start the year with us, but they were more halftime players. I have a feeling Sa’Kylee will play as much as he can.”
Woodard — born and raised in Tucson — played for the Tucson Falcons throughout most of his Pop Warner career before one final season with the Oro Valley Dolphins. Woodard emulates his game after All-Pro NFL defensive tackle Aaron Donald, “because he’s a god,” but the Los Angeles Chargers fan grew up watching highlights of running back LaDainian Tomlinson and linebacker Junior Seau.
“(Seau’s) one of my favorite players, because I loved the way he hit and that’s what made me fall in love with football,” Woodard said.
Woodard, who’s easily the Dorados’ biggest player, is expected to be an impactful player. But going from playing against kids his age to varsity competition with players that are two or three years older than him will be a challenge.
“I can’t let me playing varsity affect the way I’ve been playing. I have to stay aggressive and confident in my game,” Woodard said. “I just have to keep executing and be the best version of Sa’Kylee.”
Proof he’s good: In Woodard’s last season playing Pop Warner, he was selected by former Mountain View head coach Bam McRae to represent the West in the American Youth Football All-Star game in Florida.
Woodard was one of four players from Arizona on a team that had players from California, Texas and other states in the West.
“It showed us where we were as football players and what we needed to work on,” Woodard said. “Me being as big as I am, I wasn’t expecting to see kids my size. We don’t really have that in Tucson. It was one of the greatest experiences.”
He said it: “Usually when you’re a freshman and you’re that big and that heavy, you’re tripping over your own two feet. He’s very athletic to go along with that size and the strength. He’s going to break every freshman lifting record that we have once we get a chance to get in the weight room.” — Peace