By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The open date in UVa’s 2009 football schedule fell on Sept. 26. Many Virginia players spent the day catching up on sleep and watching college games on TV.
Brandon Woods got married.
Woods, a safety from Durham, N.C., wed his high school sweetheart, Khama Deleston, at Mount Zion First African Baptist Church in Charlottesville.
Deleston and Woods met as students at Southern High in Durham. He was in the ninth grade, and she was in the 11th. They’ve been a couple ever since.
They’d been engaged for only a few months, “but after dating for eight years, it was nothing too new,” Woods said with a smile Monday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena.
The Cavaliers had a married player on their 2008 roster, too — linebacker Jon Copper. He’s out of eligibility but still lives in Charlottesville, and Copper and Woods are close.
“Copper has always been a mentor for me,” Woods said, “and we talked about being a married man, and what it takes, and as a Christian man, what it takes to be married. So that was a great deal for me, too.”
Deleston, a senior airman E-4 in the U.S. Air Force, works in the ROTC department at Virginia Military Institute, an easy drive from Charlottesville.
She’s a huge fan of No. 17, whom she’s been watching play football for nearly a decade. Deleston attends every game she can, and she was in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Saturday to see her husband play a leading role in UVa’s 16-3 upset of North Carolina.
In his first start since early last season, the 6-2, 215-pound fifth-year senior contributed three tackles, avoided mistakes and, on one memorable play, slammed into UNC quarterback T.J. Yates on a safety blitz.
“My heart was racing, my eyes got big,” Woods said Monday. “It was an opportunity to take a shot and get in on the quarterback, and it was a great feeling.”
Woods had a large cheering section at Kenan Stadium, which is not far from where he grew up in Durham.
“When he comes home to North Carolina, that’s a big thing,” Deleston said Monday. “A lot of his high school friends were there.”
It’s not common for a football player to get married during the season, but Woods did so with Al Groh’s blessing.
“We definitely talked about it, and he knew that I was making the right decision,” Woods said.
In February 2005, Woods was one of two players from Southern High to sign with UVa. The other was wide receiver Maurice Covington. Woods had starred at wideout in high school, too, and that was his position when he arrived at Virginia.
Late in his redshirt season, though, Woods moved to safety. The next two years, he played primarily on special teams, but he won a starting job during training camp in 2008.
He didn’t last long on the first team. After the first three games, in which his poor tackling was a problem, Woods was replaced in the lineup by Cory Mosley, a redshirt freshman.
Woods handled his demotion “admirably,” Groh said. “Obviously, that’s challenging circumstances for a player. Brandon has always been a player that’s put a great deal into it. Things weren’t going as well as he would like, but he would always say, ‘Coach, can I come in and go over this video with you, or talk about what I need to do?'”
Woods said: “As football players, we all want to play, but I take the team mentality. Whatever we can do to win, that’s what I want to see … It’s kind of like I exit myself out of the picture. Whatever the coaches want, whatever the team wants, whatever we can do to win.”
Before spring practice this year, Woods encountered another obstacle. Rodney McLeod was moved from cornerback to safety, and it was clear that he and Mosley were the projected starters for 2009.
None of that deterred Woods. Groh wanted him back for a fifth year, and Woods says he never considered walking away from the program, even if his role would be limited.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Deleston said. “He loves football, he loves UVa, and his education is really big for him.”
Woods said: “I love UVa, I love the coach that I have. I’ve been blessed to have him as a football coach, and I’ve been blessed to get an education here and play football.”
Through the Wahoos’ first three games this season, Woods rarely left the sideline. But a knee injury sidelined McLeod before the UNC game, and Woods responded with the finest performance of his college career. He tackled well, lined up his teammates properly on defense and, on his near-sack, hurried Yates into an incompletion.
“I don’t want to talk too much about last week, but it’s something that I want to make regular, to play hard and to play tough for my teammates,” Woods said.
“I just have to keep proving myself every week. The coaches know what I can do. [Secondary coach] Anthony Poindexter believes in me. Coach Groh believes in me, obviously, or I wouldn’t be on the field.”
His bride lives in Lexington, but Woods sees her often. He surprised Deleston by proposing at Walmart, of all places, after tricking her into thinking a MoneyGram was waiting for her there.
“Her mom kind of helped me with that idea,” Woods said.
For now, the couple’s focus is on school, on work and on football. The honeymoon in the Bahamas?
“Next year sometime,” Woods said. “I’ve never been out of America, so that’ll be a new deal for me.”