Darren Woods Jr. knew something had to be done when the equipment bag for his Little League football team near Houston was taken.
He organized a fundraiser to replace the stolen material without his parents even knowing.
Woods was 6.
“That was probably the first time I was truly shocked,” said Barrencia Woods, his mother. “He’s always been a big giver. Always.”
Woods, a senior starting wide receiver at UNLV, has continued his philanthropic work in Las Vegas. He has twice been nominated for the Good Works Team sanctioned by the American Football Coaches Association, and for the Wuerffel Trophy, an honor given to a player for his off-field contributions.
Barrencia Woods said community service was important in their home, but it was something Woods also took upon himself.
“We here at the house call him ‘The Mayor,’” she said. “He does everything. He doesn’t say no to anything.”
When Woods was in high school, Barrencia would give him spaghetti pizza, jambalaya or dirty rice with sausage to eat for lunch. He wanted his teammates to also eat healthy food, so Barrencia soon found herself cooking enough for them each day as well.
Woods, who serves on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, has also worked through UNLV’s community-outreach program, which helped set him up with Team Impact and Three Square.
Through Team Impact, a nonprofit organization with the mission to improve the lives of children facing major illnesses, then 9-year-old Thaddeus Thatcher had a ceremonial signing event May 1, 2017, to join the Rebels’ football team for a day. Thatcher had been diagnosed with leukemia, but his cancer by that time had gone into remission.
Woods made sure that Thatcher felt at home with the football team, tossing the ball with him and putting his arm around the youngster in a team huddle. They remained in touch after that day as well.
A college athlete has a challenging enough schedule between the demands of the sport and academics. Adding community service makes time management even more difficult, but for Woods it’s a priority.
“We’ve always been taught here that the logo never comes off,” he said. “Even when you step into a room … knowing that you are a college athlete, you’ve got to carry yourself a certain way.”
Woods helped the athletic department make two promotional videos last October.
One video, which lasts a minute and eight seconds, emphasizes the diversity among UNLV athletes. The other, which is 25 seconds long, seeks to dispel the myth of the so-called dumb jock.
“He wrote the script, organized student-athletes, and from start to finish produced these social-media campaigns,” said Mallory Poole, UNLV assistant athletic director for wellness and leadership.
Student-athletes are not just on campus to play sports. We are students first, everyday SHATTERING the stereotypes. We are FUTURE LEADERS, THINKERS, AND INNOVATORS striving to POSITIVELY IMPACT our community. WE ARE REBELS ‼ #NCAAInclusion #MoreThanAthletes #BEaREBEL @NCAA pic.twitter.com/6A3ktfXryG
— UNLV S-A Development (@UNLVRebAcademy) October 2, 2018
We aren't just athletes. We're more than a label. We come from different walks of life. Individually, we are our own person, together WE ARE REBELS! #NCAAInclusion #BeyondALabel #BEaREBEL *Student-athlete written and produced by @_callmeghost_ @UNLVathletics pic.twitter.com/32gr03DDCP
— UNLV S-A Development (@UNLVRebAcademy) October 4, 2018
Woods also is a leader on the team.
His mother has received text messages from other players’ parents saying his encouragement helped them get through the first season without their son. Wide receivers coach Cedric Cormier has asked Woods to show recruits around campus. One player requested a number close to Woods’ No. 10 to get the adjoining locker stall.
Woods, who majored in journalism and media studies, is pursuing a master’s degree in broadcast journalism. His dream is to play in the NFL, and he could stay involved in athletics in some form, be it as a coach or administrator.
“I know whatever Darren decides to do, it will be in leadership role, whether that’s in politics or on the football field or athletic director,” Barrencia Woods said. “He’s very taken with (athletic director) Desiree (Reed-Francois). He likes speaking with her and really looks up to her, and he feels like he can also do something like that. Whatever he does, I guarantee everybody he knows will benefit from it.”
Darren Woods Jr. file
Hometown: Missouri City, Texas
Position: Wide receiver
Size: 6 feet, 215 pounds
Last season: 24 catches for 355 yards and five touchdowns