March 6, 2013
By William Mayfield
Much has been made of the elite collection of former college basketball standouts that comprise Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee basketball coaching staff.
Who better to mold and develop young players than the nation's highest-scoring coaching staff, made up entirely of former Division I standouts.
However, a member of the staff who is just as essential to the success of the program is team chaplain Roger Woods.
Woods, a native of Lithonia, Ga., has more than 20 years of experience working in youth ministries. In addition to his connection with Martin and the basketball program, Woods also works with Tennessee's other athletic teams, providing a shoulder to lean on for student-athletes.
Martin places a high value on Woods' role.
"He bonds with us. He travels with us. He's part of our basketball family, so to speak," Martin said. "I consider him one of our `assistant coaches.' He's an inspiration and motivation for our staff. I meet with him once a week just to talk about leadership. I think he helps us in a lot of ways."
Woods' presence in the lives of Tennessee's student-athletes helps make their experience at UT unique and spiritually rewarding.
"I think it's great for us to have him involved." Martin added. "Even though you're playing basketball, a sport where you are competing at a high level, and you're at the university to get an education and ultimately a degree, you also get the chance to learn life skills and strengthen your faith as you grow into a man."
Woods preaches a unique message to the team before each game. He is a constant in their lives. The chaplain is especially impactful when it comes to helping players who are new to the program and still adjusting to life away from their hometowns, families and churches. Nine of Tennessee's 15 players have been with the program less than two years.
"I consider myself a role model, someone the guys can go to," Woods said. "I'm the coach outside the coach. I would not call the coaches `bad cops,' but I'm the `good cop.' I'm here for encouragement and to share wisdom."
Just as UT's student-athletes appreciate Woods, he is thankful for the support he receives from the university.
"Tennessee has been very supportive of what I do," Woods said. "They understand the importance of it in these young men's lives."
Woods' work expands past his role as chaplain. He has participated in many community initiatives, is a public speaker and works with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). He integrates his life experiences into his messages to the team.
"I teach the players a holistic approach to life based on an FCA standpoint: body, mind and spirit," Woods said. "My biggest thing is not just winning on the court, but winning in the bigger game called life. The ball will stop bouncing - the air in that basketball will go out - but life will go on."