From Happy Hill to Hall of Fame

From Happy Hill to Hall of Fame
March 03
00:00 2016
Photo by Wali Pitt
Jacqie McWilliams, left, CIAA Commissioner; and Dr. Ronald Carter, chairman of the Board of Directors and President of Johnson C. Smith University, right, congratulate Tory Woodbury, middle.

By Wali Pitt

the Chronicle

Tory Woodbury grew up not unlike most young black males in Winston-Salem. As a youngster coming up in Happy Hill, the oldest African-American neighborhood in the city, he like a large percentage of his peers used their passion for sports to avoid the negativity of the streets. Tory used his passion for football and never-give-up attitude to create his own path to greatness. He has been named a 2016 inductee into the CIAA Hall of Fame, enshrined in a ceremony on February 28 at the CIAA Tournament in Charlotte.

When you look back at the football career of Tory Woodbury, the one thing that sticks out the most was his never-say-die mentality toward his playing career. As a high-school player at Glenn High School, he went virtually un-recruited and was left to decide if football was still in his future. This is a common crossroad that many young student athletes face when they finish high school. The    pressures of recruiting can cause some to become disenfranchised with the game, assuming that because they’re not recruited by big schools or even at all, that they should end their dream of playing at the next level.

For Tory Woodbury, these hurdles only proved to be further motivation. In his Hall of Fame induction interview with Mr. Charlie Neal, Tory said, “ I didn’t have many options (after high school). I had a basketball tryout at North Carolina Central that didn’t work out, and my grandmother still wanted me to go to school and make something of myself, so I decided to stay home and attend Winston-Salem State … and I guess you could say it worked out.”

To say “it worked out” is an understatement as Woodbury would go from walking onto the team to becoming a four-year starter and team captain for three years at WSSU. During his playing career, he was a natural playmaker at quarterback with the innate ability to move the ball through the air as well as on the ground. In an exclusive interview with The Chronicle after the Hall of Fame ceremony, Tory joked that he “was Cam Newton before Cam Newton.

“That Superman thing is old, I been doing that; only thing Cam got on me is the dab,” he said while we chatted about a highlight on his Hall of Fame video in which he scored a touchdown and lifted up his jersey to reveal a Superman shirt, doing this in 1999, almost 10 years before Cam Newton adopted the gesture at Auburn University.

Similarly to the current league MVP, Tory put up historic numbers in his collegiate career at Winston-Salem State University, leaving as the school’s all-time passing leader with 4,493 yards and 38 touchdowns, and running for over 1,000 career-rushing yards.

After an All-CIAA senior season, back-to-back CIAA Championships, and back-to-back Pioneer Bowl MVPs, Tory found himself having to make a similar decision to the one he had made four years earlier. He was not a high-ranked NFL prospect and as an African-American quarterback coming from a small division II black college at the turn of the millennium, his chances of being drafted and making an NFL roster were slim. But again Tory Woodbury was undeterred by his obstacles and decided to continue his football career against all odds. Through hard work and determination, Tory managed to get picked up by the Jets practice squads for the 2001-2003 seasons, as well as playing with the Buffalo Bills from 2005-2007. His never-give-up attitude and love of the game propelled him to keep pushing forward where others may have hung up their cleats.

Charlie Neal asked Tory during his interview what he took away from his NFL experience. Tory replied, “It’s always business first, that’s what I had to learn. Being from a small black college and a black quarterback, the odds were against me, but you know, I didn’t try to use that as an excuse. It was tough, but I just prayed and worked my butt off.”

Since the end of his playing career, Tory Woodbury has re-focused his efforts on giving back to the community and passing his knowledge of the game on younger generations. He has managed to directly affect kids who are growing up just like he did in his hometown through coaching, as well as through The Tory Woodbury Foundation, which provides school supplies, clothing, and meals for community members in need. When asked what his motivating factor for giving back to his community was, he replied, “I’ve had so many mentors like (Ben) Piggott and (James) Blackburn, all those guys at the Sims center, and the Boys and Girls club. I knew I wanted to give back, because they kinda raised me when I wasn’t at home or my grandmother was at work. I would go to the Sims Center and I knew I was in good hands.”

Currently, Tory Woodbury is the Offensive Coordinator at Johnson C. Smith University, serving under the tutelage of his mentor and former coach at Winston-Salem State, Kermit Blount. Charlie Neal asked Tory about his future aspirations in coaching and he laughed as he told him, “My boss is here so I need to be careful how I answer this question … but I have aspirations of making it to the top, of being the head coach. I’ve had a chance to learn from Coach Blount for years now and when it’s the right time to spread my wings … I’m gonna take it.”

If his past is any indication, you can bet that Tory Woodbury will be making his debut as a head coach somewhere before we know it.

Stay tuned to The Chronicle’s social media and YouTube for an exclusive video segment and interview with Tory Woodbury from the CIAA Hall of Fame.


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