By ALLEN SEYBERT
Ten years ago, Kiel Woodburn was soaking in the chants of his lifelong nickname, waiting to take the mat for the Eisenhower Knights wrestling team.
"Woody, Woody, Woody..."
Now, Woodburn runs the show.
After the resignation of former head wrestling coach Kris Black - at the helm of the Knights for the past nine seasons - Woodburn was recently approved to be the next head wrestling coach at Eisenhower.
Woodburn likens his return to coming home to family
"It's a big family up here, and I'm just very proud to be a part of it," said Woodburn. "Coach Black did such an outstanding job and laid down a tremendous track that I hope to follow up and build upon."
Woodburn said he is most excited about the excitement he has seen in the wrestlers, parents and fanbase since his hiring.
"The support of everybody has me most excited," he said. "Everyone from the wrestlers to the parents to the Alumni have come up to me and told me that they have my back and will help me out however they can. You can't help but get excited when you have that type of support."
For longtime followers of Eisenhower wrestling, Woodburn is anything but an unfamiliar face.
The 2002 graduate was a captain of the Knights for two seasons, qualifying for districts in all four of his varsity seasons and regions for another three years. He narrowly missed out on a trip to states in his junior and senior seasons. Woodburn finished his career in the blue and gold with 88 victories.
After graduating from coach Joe Letko's program in 2002, Woodburn didn't stray far from the Knights' wrestling room.
"When coach Black took over I volunteered as a coach and tried my best to stay involved with the program," he said. "I had to miss some parts of some seasons because of other commitments, but I certainly stayed close to the program. One thing that I think has really helped the program is having the same core group of guys involved year in and year out , from Joe McGraw to coach Black to Travis Hummel and others."
No amount of distance could keep Woodburn from the wrestling program.
Even with Woodburn serving as the rear end mechanic for Penske Racing and Ryan Newman in 2008, Woodburn's focus often returned to the Knights.
"We won the Daytona 500 in 2008 and I remember coach Black was sending me text messages throughout the weekend letting me know how the guys were making out at districts. My mind never strayed very far from the program. It's something that has always been very dear to my heart and I always knew I'd come back to the program in one fashion or another"
Now - just under five years after standing in Victory Lane at Daytona - Woodburn is the man running the Eisenhower wrestling program.
Woodburn's goals for his initial season are what you might expect.
"The biggest goal for the team is to make these guys better each and every week - take a step forward, not backward," he said. "The goal is always to make them better wrestlers now and ultimately make them better men."
Woodburn's individual goals hit a little closer to home.
"Of course the Youngsville and Warren matches are always circled on the calendar, but there are a couple matches I'm really looking forward to."
Those matches include the season-opening Eisenhower Tournament, the Warren Duals and a dual match with Falconer in early January. The Knights will compete with Falconer at all three of those events.
"(Eisenhower graduate) Drew Wilcox is the head man at Falconer and he's done an outstanding job running that program," said Woodburn. "We're great friends. He was the best man at my wedding. He works his butt off running that program - but I want to beat him."
Wilcox may have something to say about that.
However, Woodburn will consider it a successful run as coach if he can continue the traditions passed down from head coaches before him.
"I just want to keep the same attitude that Eisenhower wrestling has displayed forever," he said. "Win with class, lose with class. If we do that and continue to improve, we can continue to have a special program here at Eisenhower."
NOTE: Official practices for county winter sports teams - including Ike wrestling - begin Friday, November 16.