Joe Woodruff has been part of many reclamation projects, but the first-year Lakeland High School football coach doesn’t think the Eagles’ program is one of them.
During last week’s KLAA football media day, Woodruff told local writers: “The program is far from broken. There are many aspects of it that are in great shape. Our job will be to mesh the philosophies of the new head coach into the existing structure.”
The 44-year-old Woodruff owns a career record of 128-68, with his most recent stop in Big Rapids, where the Cardinals went 1-8, including a 1-5 record in the Gold Division of the Central State Activities Association.
Previously, he was the head coach for seven seasons at Greensboro (N.C.) Northwest Guilford, a school of 2,400 that went to the playoffs six times and captured three conference titles. His 2013 Guilford squad won a school-record 12 games and lost to nationally-ranked Mallard Creek, the eventual North Carolina 4AA champion.
Woodruff, who began teaching and coaching in 1989 as an 18-year-old student, has also made stops at Remus Chippewa Hills, Comstock Park and Port Charlotte (Fla.). He came to Lakeland through his association with Greg Michaels, the school’s athletic director, during their days at Okemos High School.
Although Woodruff’s new staff is still learning the personnel, he believes the team’s off-season workouts have proven to be beneficial.
“I think the first thing we can say is the kids have done everything we asked them to do,” Woodruff said. “They’re working hard, they’ve bought into the system, they’ve bought into the program. It’s going good. It’s ahead of what I thought it be at this point. We’re real happy with where we’re at right now.”
Woodruff, who takes over a team that finished 3-6 overall and 0-4 in the KLAA’s North Division, has also been encouraged by the player turnout.
“The numbers are real good,” he said. “We had about 120 at camp last week in the program. We’re looking at 60 on varsity and another 60 between the JV and freshman (teams) as of today. Those are good numbers.”
Eight starters return, led by a trio of seniors: wide receiver-defensive back Adam Kleckner (6-3, 190), running back-defensive back Jason Wooster (6-0, 180) and offensive and defensive lineman Kyle Welling (6-3, 275).
“Offensively, we have a five-year plan of where we’d like to be down the road,” Woodruff said. “We can’t really implement it right now, because the kids don’t have the skill sets to be able to line up and run the spread and throw the ball all over the place. So we’re going to have to build on a lot of things that they’ve done in the past, which is kind of a possession football team. There’s not a problem with that for us.
“From a defensive standpoint, there’s going to be a lot of differences with that we’re a much more attacking, blitzing style of defense is what we’ve focused on.”
On the other side of the ball, Woodruff hopes that a quicker defense can limit its opponents’ scoring after giving up an average of 38 points per game last season.
“We’re building it around team speed on our defense,” Woodruff said. “Our secondary is very good, I think. We have four very legitimate players and four or five that we hope develop into real good ones. Our linebacking corps on defense are going to be pretty fast, I think, and I hope we can build around that. And we’ll rotate around enough defensive lineman that they’ll play hard.”
Lakeland, which last made the state playoffs in 2008, will open its its season Friday, Aug. 28, at home against Northville, which defeated the Eagles in last year’s opener, 35-0.
For now, it will be a honeymoon period for Woodruff and his staff.
“They responded very positively,” he said. “I’ve received positive feedback from the kids, but I don’t know if that had mattered one way or the other. But they’re buying into the program and that tells me they’ve responded well to it.”