Woodson has LSU memories

Andre Woodson went from under center to the Kentucky sidelines as a student assistant coach. Show caption
Andre Woodson went from under center to the Kentucky sidelines as a student assistant coach.

Andre Woodson will wear a collared shirt and headset Saturday morning, continuing his first season as a student assistant on the Kentucky coaching staff.

The next stop takes him to Tiger Stadium, for a date with the nation’s No. 1 team.

The next stop beckons memories.

Nearly four years ago, LSU rolled into Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., wearing the nation’s No. 1 ranking and eyeing the school’s second BCS championship run.

Woodson led a thrilling 43-37 upset in triple overtime, connecting with Steve Johnson for the decisive score.

If only for a little while, LSU’s hopes of hoisting the BCS trophy were put on hold. If only for a little while, Kentucky’s basketball-mad fan base was overcome by football fever.

Fans rushed the field as the game went final. Woodson basked in the glow of a signature victory four years in the making.

“We felt like this program had finally turned the corner,” Woodson said. “It was a huge statement. We had finally beaten a team that was very highly skilled, year in and year out, with a ton of talent and NFL-type players. I felt like we had truly accomplished something.”

The first meeting of the schools since Kentucky’s banner upset comes with an 11:21 a.m. kickoff Saturday, less than a week after LSU’s ascent to the top of The Associated Press poll.

Woodson is completing his undergraduate studies at Kentucky while serving as a student assistant. He said he will graduate in December.

At practice, Woodson works with the quarterbacks. On gamedays, he signals plays from the sideline.

But while preparing for the Tigers this week, Woodson, a two-time all-conference selection, said he has not brought up the victory over LSU his senior year.

No need to relive the past. It’s all been said before.

“They hear so much about the ‘07 season, I really don’t see a reason to talk about it,” Woodson said. “I think a lot of these guys want to make their own statement. They want to accomplish their own goals where they can leave their own mark on UK football.”

The biggest win of Woodson’s playing career was a shocker, but the Wildcats were already off to a 5-1 start and ranked 17th in the nation.

This is different.

The Wildcats, drilled by Florida last week in their Southeastern Conference opener, enter Tiger Stadium as a 30-point underdog.

Kentucky (2-2) has struggled to replace 2010 stars Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke. Untested, first-year starters dot key positions.

LSU, meanwhile, has won all four of its games by double figures.

Could the Wildcats be inspired by what Woodson & Co. accomplished? Does the school’s only victory over a No. 1 team since 1964 dance in their minds?

“You can use it a little bit,” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said, “but we are in a world that kids don’t watch a lot of football. You know, they don’t. Especially when they were younger, so I’m not sure if this freshman class remembers that far back.”

Phillips, promoted to head coach after the 2009 season, was the Kentucky offensive coordinator when LSU arrived in Lexington four years ago riding a 13-game winning streak.

His quarterback had already broken Trent Dilfer’s record of 271 pass attempts without an interception. He was on his way to throwing a single-season SEC-record 40-touchdown passes.

Down by 13 late in the third quarter, Woodson directed a comeback that pushed LSU to overtime and beyond.

He finished 21 of 38 for 250 yards after hitting Johnson with his third touchdown pass of the game, giving Kentucky the 43-37 lead and leaving LSU one last chance to answer.

On fourth-and-2 from the Kentucky 17, Braxton Kelley stopped Charles Scott short to cement the victory.

“It humbled a very talented team,” LSU coach Les Miles said.

The following week, ESPN’s ï¿”College Gameday’ appeared in Lexington for the Kentucky-Florida game.

Fans weren’t counting the days to basketball season. Their football team had ascended to No. 8 in the polls and looked like a player in the SEC race.

But the Wildcats went south in a hurry, losing five of their final six regular-season games before beating Florida State in the Music City Bowl.

Even a late-season loss to Arkansas couldn’t keep LSU from winning another national title.

“We really weren’t deep at any position,” Woodson said. “Unfortunately, as the season went on, guys started wearing down, and we started losing players. We weren’t able to stay healthy and compete with all these teams that have a lot of depth at each position. We just wore down.”

Woodson, who as a junior led Kentucky to its first bowl win in 22 years, was taken by the New York Giants in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. He spent two seasons on NFL practice squads but never appeared in a game and was hampered by an injury to his throwing wrist.

A call from Phillips, looking for help on his Kentucky coaching staff, redirected Woodson’s career.

Woodson said he has enjoyed his time mentoring junior Morgan Newton and the other Kentucky quarterbacks. He hopes to be an offensive coordinator someday.

“I just decided this would be my new path and the direction I would go,” he said. “I’m glad to be back part of the family.”

A former standout at North Hardin High in Radcliff, Ky., Woodson is proud of the role he played in helping turn Kentucky into a winning program.

He has watched the Wildcats make three more bowl games since he left, continuing their school-record streak of five straight postseason appearances.

He wants to do his part to make sure the streak continues.

And maybe, one day soon, he can help today’s players enjoy the kind of euphoria he and his teammates experienced four years ago.

“Everybody’s kind of new to their roles, but they’re learning,” Woodson said. “We just have to get their confidence up where they know they can make any kind of play week in and week out.”