BRADENTON -- Ray Woodie knows what it took for guys like Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith, Leslie Frazier, Mike Tomlin and Herman Edwards to become NFL head coaches.
Now Woodie will be traveling a similar path thanks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who chose the Palmetto native for the NFL's Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship program.
Woodie, the linebackers coach at USF, will be with the Bucs staff from July 20 through early August, dependent on his duties with the Bulls.
The NFL minority fellowship program was created 22 years ago and was
renamed for the late Walsh, the highly successful San Francisco 49ers coach.
"Just knowing some of the history of the program and the great coaches who got their start there makes this very humbling," Woodie said. "Doing it with the Bucs is extra special. I've been a fan since they wore orange and white, and it's close to home."
Woodie had to undergo a long screening process. He received a strong recommendation from USF head coach Willie Taggart, who went through the internship program with the Philadelphia Eagles and Oakland Raiders.
Woodie will be going into his fifth season under Taggart, who is the only Manatee County native to lead a major college football program as head coach.
Taggart started his career at Manatee, where he was a standout quarterback. Woodie was a highly touted linebacker at Palmetto and logged some time in the Canadian Football League.
"Ray is a good candidate because he has everything you look for in a football coach," Taggart said. "I've watched him grow so much since he has been with me. He is always good with the players and is a great mentor. He wants to learn and do whatever it takes to be a better coach."
The opportunity marks another milestone for Woodie. He was the youngest high school head coach in Florida when he took over the Bayshore program in 1997 at the age of 23. He was head coach at Palmetto from 2007 to '09 before joining Taggart at Western Kentucky, where Woodie was named the Sun Belt recruiter of the year in 2012.
"I feel very fortunate to be selected for this program. There were so many candidates," Woodie said. "You think you know a lot, but you can never learn enough. This is a great opportunity to work under football gurus like Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier. You look at those guys and say, 'Wow, they got their start after being in this program.'"
Woodie says his loyalty remains with Taggart, and his immediate goal is to bring anything he learns to the USF football program.
"I've been with him for five years and I am so grateful for the opportunity he gave me," Woodie said. "My long-term goal is to help coach Taggart win a national championship and short term win a conference championship. From there let the chips fall where they may."
Woodie got a big endorsement from USF defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, who worked in the NFL for 15 years and was a coordinator for four teams.
"He (Woodie) brings a passion, is detailed and organized in his work. He is an excellent teacher who is thoroughly prepared for all meetings and practices. He is an outstanding recruiter and deals with people in a professional and courteous manner," Bresnahan said in part in a recommendation letter.
Woodie hopes he can be with the Bucs for their preseason games, especially the opener in Jacksonville, because it could involve three local players he knows well in the Jaguars Ace Sanders (Manatee) and Damian Copeland (Palmetto) and Tampa Bay cornerback Mike Jenkins (Southeast).
"It would be great to be there for the whole preseason, but my first obligation is with USF and coach Taggart," Woodie said. "I just want to learn as much as I can. I am going to be a sponge."