Greg Woods was supposed to be a football player.
“My dad played football at the University of Kentucky and then in the NFL,” Woods explains. “Every person in my family played football. It was in my blood.”
While his choice to instead play volleyball in college was a surprise to his family, it soon turned into something much bigger for Woods. His roller-coaster collegiate career at Springfield College in Massachusetts helped shape him while leading him to opportunities for life after sports.
“The man I am today is unrecognizable to who first set foot on campus four years ago,” Woods says. “I want to have a career in college athletics now. I would love to stay in Division III, so I can return to student-athletes what my athletic department did for me.”
Having spent four years on the volleyball team at Springfield, partnered with two years sitting on the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and one on the Division III Management Council, Woods has confirmed his career ambitions and is ready to tackle the steppingstones to fulfill them.
Choosing His Identity
Football was the original plan until an onlooker recognized Woods’ volleyball potential.
“There was a volleyball net at this graduation party,” Woods says. “I was hitting around with some teammates, and a guy came up to me and pointed out everything I was doing wrong.”
His name was Mark Fishman, and his madness had a method. “He knew he could make me good,” Woods recalls.
As the club director at Mizuno East Volleyball, Fishman would show Woods how competitive men’s volleyball could be, fueling his fervor for the sport.
A Rude Awakening
When the time came, only one college coach made an impression on Woods – the men’s volleyball coach at Springfield College. “Charlie Sullivan is, hands down, the best coach in the nation at all divisions,” Woods says.
After a trip to see the campus, Woods wasted no time in selecting Springfield, only to receive bad news in return: His spot had been taken.
Though discouraged, Woods was determined to attend Springfield and walk on to the team, knowing the campus also suited his academic interest in business and marketing.
“I was the worst player in the gym,” Woods says, remembering his first open gym at Springfield. “The transition from high school to college was a whole new ballgame.”
A New Mindset
As Fishman had done when Woods was in high school, Sullivan saw something in him and found him a spot on the team.
“Coach Sullivan believed I could be one of the best hitters in the gym,” Woods says. “But he didn’t need me – he could cut me at any time.”
And he almost did before Woods’ junior year.
During the drive back from summer camp that year, Woods found himself in tears as Sullivan gave him the honest truth: no improvement, no spot.
From that point, Woods committed to not only bettering his skills but also diagnosing the cause of weaknesses in his game.
“My mental game was terrible,” he says. “Up until that point, I had never believed in myself and dwelled on my errors.”
He started going to a sports psychologist, paying attention to detail and challenging himself to get 1 percent better every day.
By his junior season at Springfield, Woods was playing with a new mindset that carried over to his campus life. Following a suggestion from Athletics Director Craig Poisson, Woods applied to be part of the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
“The experience was eye-opening,” Woods says. “I never thought I would sit in the (NCAA) national office, make the relationships I have made, go to the places I’ve gone and have a true say in college athletics.”
Being a SAAC member helped Woods recognize his leadership potential. He joined the jazz band, an a cappella group and the student-athlete leadership team. After graduating in May, Woods is back at Springfield working toward a Master of Business Administration degree, which he hopes will lead to a career in college sports.
“Volleyball has ended,” Woods says, “but it provided the platform for so much more.”