For the first three years of his college football career, Harry Woodbery was a gunslinger leading the up-tempo pass-heavy Air Raid system at Navarro College in Texas and Eastern Illinois University.
When the Panthers hired longtime Northwestern University assistant Adam Cushing in December 2018, EIU transitioned to a more balanced attack.
“I loved the Air Raid,” Woodbery, a redshirt senior, said Jan. 19 during the virtual Ohio Valley Conference media day event. “It was a great time. The Air Raid is ‘see space, take space.’ This offense allows you to really control a football game. You can really take advantage of an opponent’s weaknesses.
“It helps you play football at a much higher level,” he said.
Entering his second season in the offense, Woodbery expects to direct the offense to improved results over last season, when the Panthers went 1-11 in their debut season under Cushing amid a roster dominated by youth.
In 11 games, Woodbery completed just over 51% of his passes while throwing for 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Eight of those interceptions came in three games during the middle of the season.
In his final three games of last season, Woodbery threw five TDs and no interceptions, including a three-touchdown performance in Eastern’s lone victory, against Tennessee State.
“If you watch last year’s video, Harry’s progress from Game 1 to the end of the season was just fantastic,” Cushing said. “What’s even more exciting is what he’s done this off-season. His understanding of the system has grown to the point where he owns it.”
Along with plenty of repetitions, Cushing credited Woodbery for wanting to see the offense from any view possible.
“He’s the guy at walk-through asking me to get a special video right behind him so that he can see those little details,” Cushing said.
Back for more
Woodbery announced during the OVC media event that he also would play in the fall for the Panthers, giving them a veteran starter for the next 10 months, in which they will play at least 17 games.
That starts with the seven-game, OVC-only spring schedule that opens Feb. 21 at UT Martin.
The Panthers return their top three receivers, including Woodbery’s roommate, Isaiah Hill, a junior who played eight games last season and led the team with 57 catches for 569 yards and four touchdowns after transferring from South Dakota State.
“You guys see him on Saturdays,” Woodbery told the media. “You see the speed. You see the dynamic plays he’s able to make. You guys don’t see him in the off-season. That guy is out here working on the field every single chance he has, perfecting his craft.”
Hill’s competitive streak also transfers to the apartment where he lives with Woodbery and fellow wide receiver Matt Reyna.
“I live with (Isaiah) and we compete every day in everything, even though it’s unnecessary at times,” Woodbery said. “Video games and other dumb stuff. We compete over who can cook the best meal.”
All hands on deck
Along with Hill, Eastern’s receiving corps returns sophomore running back Jaelin Benefield (39 catches, 299 yards, two TDs) and senior wide receiver Robbie Lofton (28 catches, 296 yards).
The speedy Reyna, who missed last season with an ankle injury, also returns to reconnect with Woodbery, his junior college teammate in Texas.
The experience in the receiving corps will balance the young offense in general from last season.
“There were games where we had eight or nine true freshmen on the field at one time,” Cushing said of his offense in 2019, which at times featured five true freshmen on the offensive line. “We’ve gained a ton of experience for those new guys.”
Though the youth movement caused issues last season, Woodbery said he expects plenty of growth from last year’s new faces.
“There were times we had some busts and some mistakes, but that’s all just part of growth,” he said. “I’m super excited to see how these guys take the field in the spring and then build on that even more in the fall.”
Eastern Illinois spring schedule
Feb. 21 – at UT Martin, 1 p.m.
Feb. 28 – vs. Southeast Missouri, 2 p.m.
March 14 – at Tennessee State, 1 p.m.
March 21 – vs. Tennessee Tech, 1 p.m.
March 28 – at Murray State, 2 p.m.
April 3 – vs. Jacksonville State, 1 p.m.
April 11 – vs. Austin Peay, 1 p.m.