PALMETTO -- Hometown heroes are easy to recognize and hard to hide.
Ray Woodie found that out when he came to the Palmetto Youth Center to receive a "Hometown Heroes" Award given by the DRC Foundation on Friday.
An assistant football coach at USF, Woodie was not allowed to watch the DRC football camp because of NCAA rules and couldn't meet with anyone that might be considered a potential prospect.
That didn't stop a bunch of former area high school players from finding him and rendering their thanks for all he has done for them. It's a reason he received the award, said NFL cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
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USF head coach Willie Taggart received the same award. However he was unable to attend because his wife. Taneshia. gave birth to a girl (Morgan) on Thursday. Also honored in absentia was State College of Florida basketball coach Elliot Washington, who played and coached at Southeast.
"They are hometown heroes, guys who did a lot for the community, and it's only right that you honor them," said Rodgers-Cromartie, a Lakewood Ranch High product who plays for the New York Giants. "Coach Woodie did a great job getting guys where they needed to go in college and showed them what they needed to do to get there. He is a great resource for kids and the same thing for Coach Taggart."
People helping people goes a long way back among Manatee County athletes.
"Ray is a great example of what you call a hometown hero. Ray came back (after college football) and coached at Bayshore and Palmetto and did a lot of good things for kids in the area," said Stan Cromartie, a former Southeast High basketball standout and DRC's father.
If it wasn't for Woodie, DRC might not have gotten a chance to play college football and turn himself into an NFL first-round pick about to enter his eighth season in the pros.
Woodie's position coach at Bethune-Cookman was Rod Reed, the current head coach at Tennessee State. Stan Cromartie was basketball coach at Bethune-Cookman as DRC prepared to graduate from Lakewood Ranch.
DRC had no college offers. Stan Cromartie told Reed about his son. Reed asked Woodie about the kid, then offered him a scholarship.
"Stan Cromartie was a mentor towards me," Woodie said. "He took care of me when I was at Bethune-Cookman and helped me a lot. When Coach Reed asked me about DRC, I said, 'What do you mean? He is a stud.' They took a chance, and you see what happened."
A 1991 Palmetto High graduate, Woodie became head football coach at Bayshore at the age of 23. He later became head football coach and athletic director at Palmetto before joining Taggart's football staff at Western Kentucky.
Fabian Washington, another former first-round NFL Draft pick who played for four years at Bayshore under Woodie, had nothing but praise for his former coach.
"Coach Woodie is a major reason of where I got to in life," Washington said. "He took me under his wing and showed me the right way to do things. Before I met him, I really wasn't doing the right things in regards to my school work and attitude, He was a father figure to me."
Washington, who lives in Orlando and trains athletes under his Formula 31 camp, said he wanted to come back and pay tribute to his former coach.
Woodie said he felt it was important for him to be in attendance and receive the award, though he had avoid camp attendees because of NCAA rules.
"At the end of the day, you love to see this happen every year because that's what these kids need. They need somebody to believe in them," Woodie said.