Three years ago, this was considered impossible.
This week as Woodward prepares for Start in the Polar Bears' biggest game of the year, the best part of Woodward's football season is no longer the end of it.
Indeed. Woodward is 5-1 and 3-0 in the City League after CL coaches selected the Polar Bears to finish 11th out of 12 teams.
On top of that, coach Henry Delffs has changed how football is viewed at Woodward.
Delffs' first two seasons laid the groundwork for this year's unexpected success.
Woodward finished a combined 3-16 in 2001 and 2002.
No pain, no gain.
“Some people told me I was nuts for taking this job,” said Delffs, a 1964 Woodward graduate.
“We had to constantly tell the kids to come out for practice every day. Even if they were sick, just come and stand on the sideline. It was tough.”
This season? Well, admittedly, a little over two years after Delffs was hired, his rebuilding project at Woodward is nearly complete.
“The whole school's excited. The outlook is so much better,” Delffs said.
Under Delffs, the impossible officially became possible.
Be honest. For years, Woodward brought up the rear in the City League. Following last year's 2-8 team, similar questions about the Polar Bears surfaced.
Could Delffs find enough players to field a team after starting out with just 25 during two-a-days last season? And could he turn those players who stuck through the bad times into winners?
We have the answer to those questions.
Woodward had 54 players come out for football, more than doubling last year's output.
Two members of this year's starting lineup deserving special mention are seniors Khalfani Rice and Sean Sutton, who were on the team before Delffs' arrival and used their influence to recruit other players.
“We're getting more kids to come out,'' said Delffs, who teaches six classes a day at Woodward in Civics, African-American History and Psychology.
``Last year was the first time we ever had a varsity, JV and freshman team.''
Athletic director Connie Stanford said Delffs didn't get the Woodward job because he went to school there.
“I've seen Henry build with discipline,” Stanford said. “Kids like structure. They may not appear to like it, but they really do.
“Henry's a teacher in the building.
``He had coaching experience.
``He was involved in successful high school programs [at Whitmer and St. Francis de Sales].
``And he was very enthusiastic.”
Delffs never lost that enthusiasm, even after Woodward's 67-8 loss to Start last year - a game in which Start coach Pat Gucciardo Jr. ran up the score in the final minutes.
Delffs said revenge isn't Woodward's motivation entering Saturday's rematch.
“We put that game out of our minds a long time ago,” he said.
“We want to win because we want to go to the playoffs for the first time ever.
``Everyone's confident, but we know we have to work for it.”
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