Havelock native contributes on James Madison's title team

James Madison capped off a come-from-behind win over sixth-ranked Richmond in an early-November regular-season football game, scoring two touchdowns in the game’s final two minutes.

That’s when Havelock native Taylor Woods believed the Dukes were a national championship-caliber team.

“We didn’t fold. We stuck together throughout the game,” Woods said. “Just going through the summer and through the season, in our locker room, we’ve been so close.

“Our unity was so close and you usually don’t have that at a lot of colleges. That can help you win a national championship.”

James Madison finished the job, clinching the football program’s second-ever national championship.

The Dukes defeated Youngstown State, 28-14, this past Saturday in Frisco, Tex. in the NCAA Division I FCS National Championship game.

Woods, a 5-foot-9 running back, contributed on special teams in James Madison’s title clinching win.

“It feels really good. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment,” Woods said. “Winning the national championship in college, it’s a dream come true. I’ve dreamed about this since I was a little kid.

“It’s a reality now.”

Woods won three high school state championships, from 2011-13, playing at Havelock High.

He can add another milestone to his football resume.

“It’s pretty awesome. I can say that I’ve won at every level, especially winning three state championships in high school. But winning a national championship in college is better,” Woods said. “It’s awesome having that feeling of being a national champion. It’s big for JMU and getting its name out there worldwide.”

James Madison, finishing with a 14-1 record, plowed through the playoffs, which included a 27-17 win at top-ranked North Dakota State in the semifinals.

Then, in the championship game that was televised on ESPN2, the Dukes led the entire way and even held a 28-7 advantage.

 “We took it as just another game because we didn’t want to overhype it,” Woods said. “We wanted to stay focused on the game. We took a deep breath and calmed down before the game and did what we had to do.”

Woods, a junior, said he was willing to contribute in any way possible, including playing on kickoff coverage.

He was a backup running back to senior Khalid Abdullah who rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the game.

“Special teams is one of the key aspects in a football game,” Woods said. “It’s all about field position and changing the field, especially on kickoffs and pinning teams deep.

“You always want to give the offense good field position.”

During the national championship week, the players spent time with kids with disabilities, bowling and played games and listened to a speech by former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Doug Williams, all while preparing for the biggest game of their football lives.

“It was a great opportunity just to play in the game, and to come away with a win, it’s just awesome,” Woods said.

This season, Woods rushed for 240 yards with five touchdowns. He also tossed a touchdown pass.

He’s already looking forward to spring practices and defending the crown next season.

“It makes us more hungry. We want to go out and win another national championship,” Woods said. “We are going to go through spring ball and have a good spring ball and work our tails off in the offseason.

“Our standards are high. That’s what we want to do every year.”

Woods will be a senior when James Madison opens next season at East Carolina.

He will be playing against former Havelock High teammate Derrell Scott, an ECU running back.

The duo won three high school state championships together.

“It’s going to be exciting to get to play there in Greenville, just an hour away from Havelock,” Woods said. “It’s going to be great to play against Derrell. I’ve known Derrell since middle school and we won three state titles together in high school.

“Now, we are separated in college and will be playing against each other. It was surprising when the schedule came out and I saw ECU. We are going to go out there and play for Havelock.”

Adam Thompson is the Sports Editor at the Sun Journal. He can be contacted at 252-635-5669. Follow Adam on Twitter @A_ThompsonNBSJ