The answering machine message at Pierre
Woods’ Ann Arbor home is a little different than an average college
football player’s. Make the call, and you’ll be told that you’ve
reached “the Woods family.” The junior linebacker doesn’t live with
his teammates or his buddies. His roommate is his mom.

Kate Green

That might not sound like the ideal living arrangement for a
college student, but it’s what Woods wants. And besides, Woods
says, he doesn’t live with his mom – “she lives with me.”

Woods moved his mother, Jacqueline Tatum, from Cleveland (where
Woods grew up) to Ann Arbor in June. It was something he had vowed
to do after he moved out of the dorms, something he saw as his

“It’s working out well,” Woods said. “She’s working at K-mart.
She’s having a good time. (If) she’s happy, I’m happy.”

Woods said his mother, who he called his “hero,” gives him
freedom: “She doesn’t treat me like a little kid or anything like

And how could she? Woods, who has uncommon maturity, had to grow
up a long time ago. He has a child of his own – four-year-old
Pierre Woods, Jr., or P.J. – and, already, a lifetime’s worth of
pain crammed into just 21 years.

“He’s my heart,” Woods said of P.J. “When I don’t feel like
practicing, when I don’t feel like doing anything, I just think
about him. I go out there, and it keeps me going.

“That’s my inspiration.”

P.J. lives with his mother in Cleveland, but Pierre had him in
Ann Arbor last summer, and he hopes to move him here full-time next
year. That’s a lot of responsibility for someone who’s also trying
to balance football and school.

But maybe Woods clings so close to his family because he has
lost part of it.

Woods runs through the toll matter-of-factly:

When Pierre was in eighth grade, his father died of

During his senior year of high school, his eldest brother passed

A few months later, his high school basketball coach was

After his father died, Woods “didn’t want to live anymore. My
father was like my best friend. Anywhere he went, I went. When he
passed away, I just wanted to die with him. But I know you have to
go on with life and everything like that.”

With the help of the rest of his family (there were eight kids)
and his coaches, he did go on. And he grew.

“Actually, it made me a better person,” Woods said. “Made me a
stronger person, better person. I have to take care of the family.
I’m the baby of the family, but a lot of people look up to me.

“It was tough, but I made it through, and I’m here.”

He’s here, and he’s making his presence known as an integral
part of Michigan’s defense. He had a big hole to fill this season –
the one left by All-Big Ten linebacker Victor Hobson – but he has
loads of athleticism, and he’s left more than a few quarterbacks
lying on the turf. He leads the team with six sacks. And now he has
a Big Ten Championship and an impending trip to a BCS bowl.

He has made it this far, in part, because people were there for
him during the hard times.

“People took me under their wing, like my junior high school
coach and my high school coach,” Woods said. “So I was always taken
care of.”

Now, Pierre is the one taking care of the people who need

Courtney Lewis can be reached at

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