NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Al Woods grew up on a Louisiana farm, working in the heat and getting dirty ever since he can first remember.
You name, and Woods did it.
"I'm a second-generation cattleman, because my dad has been doing it,'' Woods said on Monday. "I remember when I was six years old, my dad would put the truck in first gear and let it take off slow and I would stand in the seat and drive it. And my dad and my uncle would be outside throwing hay in the back of the truck, on the trailer. And when it would get to the end, he would turn (the truck) around for me.
"He would say: "Hold it straight." I'd drive it real slow and they'd stack the hay. That's how I learned how to drive actually."
Years later, Woods is still doing the dirty work -- on the farm, and on the football field.
On Monday, Woods officially signed a new contract with the Titans. In Tennessee, he's getting paid for being disruptive in the middle of the trenches as the team's nose tackle. He arguably had the best season of his six-year NFL career in 2015.
But during the offseason he still works on the farm – with about 300 head of cattle and horses -- he now owns back in Elton, La. These days he's planting rice, working the cattle, and counting the days until he's ready to bale some more hay.
He loves both jobs. His wife, Megan, vouched for him on the day he showed up at Saint Thomas Sports Park to sign his contract.
Defensive lineman Al Woods signs his contract at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Gary Glenn)
"The days can get long (on the farm),'' Woods said. "She will call me and tell me "It's time for you to come home. You need to turn that tractor off and come home." It is 9-9:30 at night and I am still out there with the lights on trying to finish up."
On the football field, Woods likes to finish off opponents.
His play on the field earned him a new contract with the Titans. Woods, who played at LSU, also received an offer from the Seahawks after a visit last week at the start of free agency.
Following a season when he tied his career high with 31 tackles, including three for a loss, Woods said he wanted to return to Tennessee because of his teammates and coaches.
"I love the new GM (Jon Robinson) and what direction he is taking us in, and I love the coaches,'' Woods said. "I feel like it is going to be a totally different deal coming into this new season and I definitely want to be a part of it. I love the coaches, my teammates. When I was going through this process, there was nothing bad I could say about Tennessee. So it was like, "Why not come back?
"Really, I feel like it's a match made in heaven."
Playing in the trenches on Sundays, however, Woods sometimes has to go through hell.
"It can get bad,'' Woods said. "It can get brutal… But that doesn't bother me. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Woods (6-4, 307), who joined the Titans in 2014 after spending two-plus seasons with the Steelers, said he doesn't mind working in the not-so-glamorous position.
Except for the times he fails to reach his own expectations.
"I'll come home and if it is a game where I don't feel like I completely dominated people, sometimes I just won't talk, I won't eat, I won't do anything,'' said Woods, who has played in 69 career games -- and tallied 103 tackles and 3.5 sacks -- since 2010. "I scream on the inside, "I should have done this better. I shouldn't have done that." …. Nobody plays a perfect game, but we all strive to perfection.
"I feel like if am playing, if I have my hand on the dirt, whether it's in practice or an NFL game, you have people riding on this. It could be my family, the Titans family, coaches and their families. One play can dictate a touchdown or a loss of a game. I just feel like every down is important and I have to do my job."
So what drives the man who learned to drive on the farm?
Woods, with his wife by his side on Monday, mentioned her and his children – daughter Raigen (7) and son Brayden (2) – on several occasions during the course of an interview with Titans Online.
Megan Woods, who has known Al since he was three years old, said her husband has always been a perfectionist. It's partly why he didn't take a vacation from high school until last summer, when he finally allowed himself to take a mental break on a trip to the Bahamas. Even then, it took him a few days to really relax.
"I know my little boy, my daughter and my wife are in the stands watching me play,'' Woods said. "I definitely don't want to leave a game and have my little girl say, "Daddy, you got beat up." I don't want to have that happen. I want to be the one who gives the beating. … She notices if I get pushed off the ball, or if I fell the wrong way.
"I do it for them, and for the team. And I want to be the best I can possibly be. I am always striving to be the best, and I'll never stop doing that."