Mill Valley’s man of the hour
When you walk into the basement of the Woods' house -- which has been transformed into a state of the art mini-weight room -- it's like walking into a shrine for the four Woods boys.
On the walls hang newspaper clippings and pictures of the four brothers. In the back of the room their trophies and medals are on display. The second oldest brother, David, dominates most of the walls with his press clippings much like he dominates the Mill Valley record books. David owns every single season and career rushing and scoring record in the Mill Valley football program's record book. He also owns most career receiving records.
Trailing just behind David in press clippings is the second-youngest brother Justin, the senior starting running back for Mill Valley this season. Just like he quickly approaches the line of scrimmage, Justin is quickly catching up to David in press clippings and his records are next. Last spring, Justin became the fastest man in Class 5A in Kansas, winning the 100 and 200 meters at the state track meet. This summer, Justin verbally committed to play football at Kansas State, becoming the first Division-I athlete among the four brothers.
"Like all his brothers, it just seems like he was born to play football," Mill Valley football coach George Radell said. "He and all his brothers like to practice football. They like to play catch. They like to lift weights. It's like they're just made to do that."
Fast from the start
The Woods' mom, Portia Woods, has a story she likes to tell about Justin.
When Justin was three years old, he got into something in the house that he wasn't supposed to get into and his mom sent his dad, Max Woods Sr., after him.
Something you should probably know about Max Sr. is he was a three-time All American sprinter in college at Langston University in Oklahoma. When Portia yelled at Justin, "I'm telling your dad, he's coming to get you," Justin bolted out the door with Max Sr. in pursuit.
Justin took off down the sidewalk and made a quick left turn. Dad couldn't catch him.
"He's been fast since he was 3 years old," Portia says.
On the football field, he eludes defenders like he eluded his dad. Last season against Basehor-Linwood, Justin took a direct snap on a fake punt and ran untouched 40 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. By the time the Basehor-Linwood defenders figured out what was happening, Woods was in the end zone.
Unfortunately for Kaw Valley league defenders, Justin keeps getting faster. Since he entered high school, he's improved his 40-yard dash time from 4.7 seconds to 4.28 seconds. In comparison, the fastest 40-time at the NFL Draft combine this year was 4.30 by Clemson cornerback Tye Hill.
But Justin isn't satisfied with his 40 time or his 5A state track meet record 10.56 seconds in the 100 meters.
"I think I can get a lot faster than I am now," Justin says.
Justin has made a believer out of his coach that he's a man of his word.
"He's faster. No doubt that he's faster this year and he continues to get faster," Radell says. "I have no doubts that three months from now he'll be faster than he is today."
Early bird gets the worm
Max Sr. admits he doesn't know much about football. When the Woods boys decided they wanted to take up football, Max Sr. didn't have any advice for them on the field. But he did know how to prepare them off the field, as he learned from his father.
When Max Sr. was growing up in the Bahamas, his dad used to get him up every day at 5 a.m. so he could go running on the beach. Max Sr. became an All-American sprinter.
So when it came time that Justin wanted to become an All-American football player, Max Sr. knew the formula for success. Justin is a workout fiend. He lifts for an average of four hours a day. He benches 260 pounds and squats 375. During the summer, he woke up at 5 a.m. to lift weights before he went to workout with his teammates at school. During much of the school year, he does the same.
"It improves a big part of your game," Justin says. "Without weights, I wouldn't be as strong or as fast. The harder you work in the basement, the easier it is out there on the field."
Last year, Max Sr. decided he wanted to get in a workout before his early shift at the K-Mart plant in Lawrence and he started rising at 3 a.m. to workout. Justin and little brother, Nicholas Woods, decided to join their dad.
"I'd go down to the basement at 3:15 and the boys would already be there," Max Sr. says.
Lifting weights and training is nothing new to the Woods brothers. Max Sr. would go jogging when the boys were younger and they would always follow behind. Max Sr. always wanted his own gym in his house and started collecting weights and equipment when his boys were toddlers. One of his first pieces of equipment was a plastic weight bench for the boys that he would fill with water for weight.
He didn't force his boys into training, but when they were ready and willing, he became their self-appointed personal trainer.
"I train them because I don't trust anybody else with my kids," Max Sr. said. "I've been training them since they were about 3 or 4 years old."
When the four Woods brothers get together, bragging rights are on the line. The three older brothers have manned the Mill Valley backfield since 2000 when Max Woods Jr. started as a sophomore. Youngest brother Nicholas will backup Justin this season.
So when they're all together, it often becomes a 'who's the best running' back debate.
David has the numbers and Justin has the D-I scholarship notch on his belt -- however, David, who plays at Hutchinson Community College, may soon be able to make that claim as he has offers from several schools including Mississippi State. Max Jr. and David both have league titles and playoff appearances in their senior seasons, something Justin hopes to duplicate.
The debate is even something their coach has a tough time picking a side on.
"Max was a tremendous north and south runner. Max was going to fall forward three yards," Radell said. "David, in a one-on-one box, in flag football, David Woods would be fantastic because his lateral quickness was just fantastic.
"And then with Justin, clearly, it's his linear speed. What he can do straight ahead is better than just about everyone else. And Nicholas maybe as good a defensive player as any of them."
Although the brothers push each other on the field and in the weight room, the bond they share is what Justin treasures.
"It's unbreakable," Justin says. "They're my life and we've been through everything together. In life and sports, we learn from one another."
As Justin talks about his expectations and goals for this year, Max Sr. reminds Justin one record he hasn't touched yet -- the fastest Woods record. Max Sr. holds that record and he is very proud of it. As a sprinter at Langston, he ran the 100 meters in 10.1 seconds.
Max Sr. says he is still waiting for Justin to break his record.
"Should be a piece cake," Justin says as his brothers and parents erupt in laughter.
But although Justin is known for his humility -- his mom, Portia Woods makes sure of that -- he has lofty expectations this year.
Justin's goal this football season, along with a state championship, is to run for 3,000 yards, which would demolish David's single season record and move Justin into the lead in career rushing yards at Mill Valley.
Next year, Justin wants to start for Kansas State at running back as a true freshman, something even his idol Darren Sproles wasn't able to accomplish. After college, Justin wants to play in the NFL. Justin has the ability but knows the only way to get what he wants is through hard work, something to which he is accustom.
"Some guys can work as hard as Justin and don't get the Division-I scholarship because they don't have his God-given speed," Radell said. "Some guys can have his God-given speed but not work as hard as him and not get the Division-I scholarship. He put the two together and he's cashing in on it."
His new love
Justin's girlfriend, Mikayla Grimes, has a saying she likes to go by. "If God brought you to it, he'll bring you through it."
Those words are echoing in the mind of Justin these days. Last Saturday, August 19, a sixth Woods boy was welcomed to the family, Justin's son, Jayden Woods.
"That's the new love of my life right now," Justin says. "I believe that God has a plan and that was in God's plan for this to happen. When God sends something your way, I know you just got to live with it."
Justin is being forced to grow up fast. Next year, he plans to take Grimes and Jayden with him to Kansas State, where his scholarship allows him to have a free apartment and free daycare.
Justin's approach to life has changed. He's not just playing for himself and his teammates anymore; he's playing for his son.
"When I'm at practice I think about him because I want to work harder just to make it easier on him," Justin says. "I want to be a good role model for him."
The Woods family has been pretty good to the Mill Valley football program. Each Woods brother has traded spaces as the big man on campus at Mill Valley with Nicholas next in line. But Portia makes sure the names in the record books can always fit their heads through the door.
"I've always told them, 'Never forget where you come from and you will never rise so far that you can't fall back down.' I'm the one who can knock them back down," Portia says.
Radell and the school has garnered from the fruits of the Woods brothers labor in the basement of their home.
As you walk down the stairs into the Woods' basement, there is a sign above the stairs that reads, 'Welcome to the Max.' Justin is about to leave 'the Max' and Mill Valley. He is about to head off into a world where he plays the role of Max Sr. and amazes K-State football fans like he has Mill Valley fans.
But like his mom always told him, he's not going to forget where he came from.
"It's my last year and I want it to last for a while," he said. "State championship, that's what I'm hoping for. I'm going to miss it. I have this family right here and I'm starting my own family and I've got to go off and do different things. Maybe we can come back and Jayden can play for Mill Valley some day."
If that were to happen Jayden would become the fifth link in the Woods chain and with it a few press clippings of his own would no doubt find their way onto the walls at the Max.