Pierre Woods’s high school coach compares his former player to an old, jolly grandmother – the kind of old woman you might see in a movie walking around, smiling, joking and laughing. From the outside, he doesn’t appear to have a care in the world.

“He’s like that grandmother where every time you see them, they’re like, ‘How are you doing, baby?’ And they could be sick as a dog and you’d never know it,” coach Ted Ginn Sr., says.

And he’s right. Anyone who has ever talked to Woods knows exactly what Ginn means. The 6-foot-5, 258-pound rush end is jovial and engaging as he jokes about his class schedule and his family. He’ll answer questions about losing to Notre Dame, he’ll talk about Michigan’s great fans, and he’ll joke around about nicknames of the other guys on the team. But one thing he won’t discuss is what happened last year.

After a junior season in which he led the Wolverines with 14 tackles for loss and seven sacks, conference coaches voted Woods to the All-Big Ten second team and the media awarded him an honorable mention. He started all 13 games at outside linebacker and was second on the team that year with 68 tackles – a career high. But then something happened.

Woods didn’t play much his senior year. He saw some snaps in every game, but made just three starts. And his numbers were way down. He made a disappointing 22 tackles that year, with just one for a loss.

The questions arose: Why isn’t Pierre Woods starting? Presumably, he was still the same player from the year before. Rumors surfaced, but no one would talk about what has happened to Woods.

“Everybody is saying the doghouse,” Woods said earlier this season. “And I don’t know where that came from. Stuff happens, but last year is last year. I don’t worry about it. I’m just looking forward.

“We were winning, right? So I’m always happy. That’s what matters.”

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr is the same way. He hates the word “doghouse,” and never uses it to describe the status of one of his players. But Carr has a history of being harshest on those people whom he expects the most from; his benching of former wide receiver Braylon Edwards was well-publicized, as was this year’s sitting of star defensive tackle Gabe Watson.

“What you’re trying to do as a coach, sometimes you’ve got to let a guy know what you don’t like, and you’ve got to let him know that what he’s doing – he’s capable of better,” Carr said. “So the coach-player relationship changes.”

And so the question becomes not why Woods didn’t play much last season, but rather why he won’t talk about not playing. To Ginn, that question is much easier to answer.

“Pierre’s always going to be loyal,” Ginn says. “He’s going to put everything first before himself. And that’s something that he’s been taught.”

Ginn would know. He’s the one who helped teach Woods, whose dad died from emphysema when Pierre was in the eighth grade. At the time, Woods was more interested in basketball than football. He was a tall kid, and most of the kids in his neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, played hoops. That’s where the glory was. Ginn said that Woods was probably good enough to play basketball in college as a reserve somewhere, but the coach still convinced his pupil to focus on football.

“The advice I gave him,” Ginn says, “was that, in that game, you’re a small man, but in this game, you’re a big man.”

Still, it wasn’t until after his junior year that Woods got serious about football. That summer, he worked hard on getting stronger and improving his forty time. Ginn took the highly recruited defensive end to football camps around the country. Woods had no idea where he wanted to go to school, but when Ginn and Woods made the trip to Ann Arbor, it was clear where he would end up. When he walked into the Big House for the first time as a recruit, he told his prep coach that Michigan Stadium was where he wanted to be.

“He loves Michigan and can’t nobody take that from him,” Ginn says. “He’s going to live and die as a Michigan Wolverine.”

Ginn, the father of Ohio State standout wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., considers Woods to be his son. When asked if the Michigan defensive end and the Ohio State receiver are friends, the Glenville High School football coach feels the need to correct the statement.

“They’re brothers,” he says.

Maybe that can help explain why he is so loyal to Michigan, his family away from Glenville. It seems that everyone who gets close to him becomes another brother. At Michigan, before Woods moved in with his mother – or as he puts it, before his mother moved in with him – the young Wolverine lived with former defensive lineman Alex Ofili and linebacker Lawrence Reid. Now, Woods considers both of them to be his siblings.

“Every time Pierre would introduce me to a family member or something – because I’ve been to Ohio with him – he was always like, ‘This is my brother, Alex,’ ” Ofili said. “We’re not biologically brothers, but he really treats me like a brother just because we lived together. And it sort of rubbed off on me.”

Family has always been important to Woods. He was just a senior in high school when he and his girlfriend had a son, Pierre Jr.

“He loves his son,” Ofili said. “His son is definitely his pride and joy.”

When Woods was in high school, he had his hands full with classes, football and track practices and recruiting visits. But on top of all that, Woods worked 20 hours a week, making money to help raise Pierre Jr.

Though he was the youngest of eight children, Woods still put it on himself to help his family get through tough times. Ginn said he tried to convince Woods not to work so much. But the high school senior would have none of it. Being loyal to family has always been more important to Pierre than worrying about his own well-being.

“Pierre was struggling,” Ginn said. “He was trying to make it and do everything. He wanted to be a daddy, but he was a kid himself.

“He was just trying to help his family.”

And even now – though he can’t be with his son, who lives at home in Cleveland with his mother – Woods stays completely loyal to Pierre Jr. After every game, Woods goes back home to relax. He talks to his mom and calls his son.

“It’s not all about him,” Ginn said. “It’s about his community. It’s about his family.”

Pierre Woods stands outside the press conference and chats it up with a dozen reporters who just want to ask him about last season. He doesn’t bite. Instead, he talks about his remaining two credits and the independent studies class he is taking this semester; the fifth-year senior just has to finish up an internship with Michigan Replay before he can graduate and take home his degree.

“I’m not worried about pro football,” Woods says.

That doesn’t mean that it’s still not a dream for the Michigan defensive lineman. But you wouldn’t know that from listening to him. Instead of discussing the Lions or the Patriots, Woods would rather talk about movies and television.

“I have wanted to be a cameraman,” Woods says. “But right now, I have to take the time to be a floor manager. And then maybe I’ll be a floor manager one week and a cameraman the next and I may get into the studio.”

For a kid who is always had the tools – impressive size to go along with his 4.68 speed – to play in the NFL, it’s more than just a little surprising that Woods doesn’t have aspirations for professional football anymore.

“Well, you know, every kid has that dream,” Ginn said about the NFL. “But his biggest dream is to get an education, and he’s going to do that and make sure that he stays committed to the University and (will be) thankful that he had an opportunity to get an education and live that life.

“That’s the way he was raised, and that’s the way he was taught.”

This season, Woods is second on team with five tackles for loss, but he still hasn’t played many snaps. Last week, when starting defensive end Rondell Biggs went down with what appeared to be a knee injury, Woods made it into the game for a significant number of plays. When he was done, he had made two tackles for loss – the most on the team – registered one sack and forced Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton to fumble.

All that while playing in limited action. After the game, defensive line coach Steve Stripling praised Woods for always being ready to showcase his talent. Rush end LaMarr Woodley complimented his teammate’s ability to get to the quarterback. And Biggs, the lineman who Woods replaced, said that he would like to see Woods on the field more often.

But Woods would never say that himself. He’s far too loyal.

“I don’t worry about that, man,” Woods says. “If coach wants to put me in, he’ll put me in. I’m happy just to be out there with my teammates and have that camaraderie. I’m happy.”

The thing is, he might actually be telling the truth.

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