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Knowing the feeling of missing out on the big games

Andre Woodward knows what it’s like expecting to play, and not playing.

In honor of high school football players and athletes in fall sports unable to participate because of the coronavirus pandemic, Woodward has a saga that was tough to swallow his senior year at Newport Harbor High in 1994-95.

After months of trying to understand his physical issues, it was discovered Woodward had a brain tumor the size of a marble. But Woodward didn’t find out right away.

“My parents didn’t tell me about it, because they wanted to make sure they knew what it was,” Woodward said last week. “I thought having all these meetings were about my attitude in school, and all these things, when they were taking me to a specialist at UCLA Medical Center.”

If Woodward wasn’t in top shape while conditioning or running stairs at Davidson Field during football practice, he would become dizzy or struggle with his vision. Once, he passed out and Sailor assistant coach Mike Bargas carried him to safety under the bleachers.

“The doctor said it was genetic, a birth defect and it was benign, that it was just something people have and they can find these in about 2% of the population, so it’s not a huge deal,” said Woodward, who was told surgery was unnecessary and would probably do more damage than good. “You pretend you never knew anything, so that’s what I did.”

Aside from a few plays, Woodward, a tailback, fullback and linebacker, mostly missed out on playing football his senior year because of the condition.

“(Not playing) was really hard for me, because we had a great team and ended up winning the (CIF-Southern Section Division 5) championship and doing what we set out to do,” Woodward said. “But personally, before my senior year, I was having issues and seeing counselors, which really had nothing to do with anything, then this weird thing happened.”

Woodward, who also struggled with asthma, said “a bunch of blood vessels had grown and conglomerated together. It wasn’t necessarily a tumor, but a lot of blood vessels in the brain. If I was not in shape and the blood was pumping through (the brain), it would mess with my vision. I didn’t think about it. I had a teacher who mentioned it on a whim and she told Coach (Jeff) Brinkley about it. I think she kind of spooked him about it.”

Woodward thought he wasn’t playing because of falling out of favor with Brinkley, not because of his condition.

“It was weird for me as a player, because I didn’t have a significant role my senior year, other than the scout team, even though I was one of the guys who grew up in that (senior) group,” Woodward said. “To me, the brain thing was a non-issue, but I think it was more of an issue with the coaching staff.

“The whole time, I was super bummed out that I wasn’t able to play. It was really hard. I knew I was a good athlete. I was just not getting an opportunity to play, and that was super hard for me,” he said. “It’s not a big deal now. I just remember feeling when you love something so much and you’re relegated to watching, it was hard. Maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.”

The 1994 Sailors finished 14-0, capturing the school’s first CIF title in 64 years of varsity football and completing the area’s first unbeaten, untied season as chronicled in my book “14 Weeks: The Most Improbable High School Football Season in History” (available on Amazon).

Woodward, one of 10 children growing up in Costa Mesa, is now an artist and sculptor who has been featured in trade publications. He lives in Fullerton with his wife, Sara, and daughter, Lucinda.

Richard Dunn, a longtime sportswriter, writes the Dunn Deal column regularly for The Orange County Register’s weekly, The Coastal Current North.

Source: Orange County Register

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