Clint Conque is in the unusual position of having recruited and coached Jonathan Woodard, as well as played against him. He’d much rather be on the same sideline as Central Arkansas’ all-everything defensive end.
“First of all, Jonathan’s a great young man,” said Conque, Stephen F. Austin’s head coach, during the Southland Conference’s weekly teleconference. “You could tell he was a special person, a high-character guy. Tremendous work ethic about him. Extremely strong. Plays with a hot motor. Very disruptive.”
Conque coached Woodard for two years at Central Arkansas before taking over at Stephen F. Austin following the 2013 season. He saw Woodard become the Southland Conference’s Freshman of the Year in 2012 and earn first-team all-conference honors as a freshman and sophomore. From a distance, he saw Woodard named Southland Defensive Player of the Year in 2014.
Conque gets one last look at Woodard on the field Saturday, as Central Arkansas (5-3, 5-1 Southland) hosts the Lumberjacks (3-5, 3-3) in Conway, Ark., on ASN.
“They’re the most complete team I see in our conference, as far as offense, defense and the kicking game,” said Conque, well aware that the league boasts top-10 teams in McNeese State and Sam Houston State.
Central Arkansas is third in the Southland in scoring defense (22.5 points per game) and total defense (368 yeards per game) and second in rushing defense (133.9). That begins with a defensive line anchored by Woodard. The 6-5, 275-pound senior has 29 career sacks, one shy of the school record, and is one yard short of the school sack yardage record.
Woodard is credited with just 19 tackles this season, but has seven tackles for loss and four sacks. His sack at the end of the game sealed last week’s 21-16 win versus Southeastern Louisiana. He had seven tackles and 3.5 sacks in last year’s 49-39 win at Stephen F. Austin.
“I think his work ethic and the way he plays and his style has really rubbed off on the other players on that defensive front,” Conque said. “They’re all playing very disruptive. They’re all big, physical, strong kids. But make no mistake, Woodard’s kind of the ringleader of that deal.”
Woodard was a sprinter and long jumper in high school in Brentwood, Tenn., whose freakish athletic ability was evident last Saturday. Southeastern Louisiana running back Julius Maracalin broke free for what might have been a 95-yard touchdown run. But Woodard sprinted downfield and cut off the angle, allowing teammate Tremon Smith to make the tackle at the UCA 21-yard line. The Bears held SE Louisiana to a field goal.
“Jonathan has played, I think, really, really well,” Bears coach Steve Campbell said. “He’s a disruptive force and been a great leader for us and played with tremendous heart and effort.”
Campbell said that the Bears have moved Woodard around on the line and used him in different ways, particularly on third downs. Though his numbers are modest compared to last season — 56 tackles, 18.5 TFL, 10 sacks — his impact remains outsized.
“I think people know who Jonathan is now and they want to make sure that they account for him,” Campbell said, “and I think his teammates are playing well around him, and giving him a lot more support and more help. We’ve got some other guys that are stepping up to help Jonathan, but I’m very pleased with how he’s been playing.”
Junior college transfer defensive back Devin Spurlock leads the Bears in tackles (51), followed by linebackers George Odum (49) and Ricky Wyatt (45), who was honorable mention all-conference last season.
“It’s a huge challenge for us,” Conque said. “We’re going to have to play our most complete game to date. I told the players, if there’s a week you’re going to need to ring the bell, this is the week we need to ring the bell.”