February 16, 2024

Refreshed & Ready, Woods Awaits Bigger Role in ’24

Photo: Steven Chang/BC Lions

His goal was to always be back on the West Coast. BC Lions’ linebacker Josh Woods then endured a restless two months following his 2023 campaign.

The Ontario, California native went from an intense CFL playoff run to sprinting 40-yard-dashes in a short period. As he explains, the excruciating duty of a pro-athlete entailed long road trips and proving his worth in front of NFL scouts and coaches.

“I didn’t know what to expect. I just know I had to keep training after the season to stay fit. After such a long season, my body is sore from playing in the last six months. I had to get ready for a different type of training. It’s more similar to prepping for the combine and pro days,” Woods recalled.

From bruising bodies to focusing on sprint mechanics, Woods’ real intention was wishing he could let his body heal after a long season of football.

His agent was in contact with the Lions front office towards the end of 2023 as the linebacker played a vital part on the defence with 45 defensive tackles, nine special teams tackles and two interceptions. He also set a game-high with 12 tackles in the Western Semi-Final against the Calgary Stampeders. Woods was all set to test the free agency market this week, but he and the club worked out a new two-year extension for the former UCLA Bruin on January 31.

To work out with NFL teams, Woods and his agent had to receive clearance from the Lions’ front office. Woods was then granted the permission to work with NFL franchises such as the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers.

Amidst the NFL auditions last December and this January, Woods found out his teammate, roommate and friend, Dom Rhymes is heading back to Ottawa.

“I’m cool with everybody on the team. Last year, when I was living with Dom, I was always with the receivers and being with Luck [Lucky Whitehead]. But of course, I’m sad,” he admits.

“Dom, JB [James Butler] and I were really like brothers, it’s bigger than football. Having their presence around on and off the field keeps me motivated.

I know we’re still going to be brothers but there will be some things we can’t be talking about because I might be playing them that week. We’ve already joked about not hitting them too hard the next time we play each other. I always tell them if you don’t want it to happen, just go down early or run deeper into the field where you know I’m not going to be.”

Woods recently came off a cruise vacation in Jamaica and Haiti with Rhymes’ family for five days. The short time off was enough for him to leave everything behind to focus on 2024.

“I went with his family out of Miami. We were supposed to go to the Bahamas but there was a storm. The cruise detoured us to Haiti. It was a vibe. I felt like I needed a reset because I’ve been pretty non-stop since the season,” Woods recalled.

“Dom and I worked out one day. But we kind of eased off and tried to relax. I feel ready to start training again. Now I know I’m going to be in BC for two more years. It’s time to work on the things I want to work on and be ready for a season I want to have.”

Josh Woods signs a two-year contract extension with the BC Lions before the start of 2024 CFL free agency, long with teammate, Ben Hladik.

Photo: Steven Chang/BC Lions

At the end of the 2023 season, both Woods and Canadian linebacker Ben Hladik had an important decision to make as they were set to become free agents. The linebacker duo both received interest across the CFL.

According to Woods, he spoke to Hladik about staying together on the West Coast and maintaining the same linebacker group — with both Ryan Phillips Travis Brown and returning as Lions coaches.

“It was unfortunate that he got hurt because we definitely could’ve used Ben in Winnipeg,” said Woods of the knee injury Hladik suffered against Calgary in the Western Semi-Final.

“We didn’t know which direction the team wanted to go after me moving to MIKE. When Ben got hurt, we didn’t know how things would shake up. But we do know we wanted to play together.”

“We thought we could be the future linebacker tandem like we’ve all seen the legends of Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill on what they meant to the BC Lions. We want to be that 2.0 type of duo. It was best for me to stay in BC playing under coach RP [Ryan Phillips] and Travis [Brown}.”

Rather than chasing the money and moving to an unfamiliar environment. Woods has a role waiting for him to be fulfilled.

As soon as he knew he was coming back to BC, Woods also spoke to Hladik about staying at home.

“I was kind of begging him like, ‘Come on back, bro!’ We talked about how the market might be and going to get more money. I know he has a wife and a kid. Of course, I want the best for him. I told him personally, ‘Bro, we can really do this!’ We can have big years, just helping each other and building the chemistry,” Woods said.

“I’m glad it all worked out. I’m really happy because one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to come back is the people, the players and coaches are really like family to me. The love that I received when I re-signed really cemented how important it was for me to come back to BC.”

Less than a week later, Hladik also agreed on a two-year contract extension with the Lions. The duo combined for 145 defensive tackles and three interceptions in the 2023 regular season. The mission for 2024 is to host the Western Final and play in the Grey Cup with the rest of the team — in front of a home crowd.

So far, the Lions have retained the same linebacker core from 2023: Ben Hladik, Bo Lokombo, Isaiah Messam, Jack Hinsperger, Josh Woods, Max Rouyer and Ryder Varga.

And three American free agents thus far: Forrest Rhyne, Jacob Carlock and Tyrell Adams. The work is only beginning.

Josh Woods signs a two-year contract extension with the BC Lions before the start of 2024 CFL free agency, long with teammate, Ben Hladik.

Left to right: Jack Hinsperger, Ryder Varga, Max Rouyer, Isaiah Messam, Josh Woods, Ben Hladik, Ryan Phillips, John Petrishen, Brooks Parker, Bo Lokombo Photo: Liam Thomson/BC Lions