May 31, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Jahi Word-Daniels lives for moments.
The Hoover, Ala., native made them happen in football during his four years as a cornerback for Georgia Tech (2005-08), then briefly in the NFL. He made them happen after football, going back to earn his degree, and now gets paid to do so as a promotions specialist for RaceTrac Petroleum, Inc.
But last August 28th he may have made his most magical moment happen.
It came on a trip to Dallas, Texas, with then-girlfriend, now fiancée, Shaday Woolcock, herself, incidentally, a former Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball player.
With the help of best friend and former teammate Andrew Loyall Gause — he went by Loyall in his years (2004-08) as a running back (’04) and outfielder (’05-08) at Tech, he turned a “photo-shoot” into an unforgettable Kodak moment.
“We went to a couple of different locations and the very last location was a park in the middle of the city,” he recalled. “We had a picnic area set up, it had all types of little things that represented her favorite items. Everybody’s taking pictures and she’s just loving it. Then Andrew asks her to stand up and close her eyes and he’s going to take a picture when he opens them. On the count of three she opens them and he took a picture. Then he told her `Let’s do it one more time except I’m going to be behind you this time.’ So she closed her eyes and he counted down again and when she turned around and opened her eyes, instead of him taking the picture, it was me down on one knee proposing to her in the middle of the park in Dallas.”
They’ll marry on July 12 in Marietta then hold their reception at the Callaway Club at McCamish Pavilion. It’s a perfect place to celebrate the beginning of their lives together.
“It’s a Georgia Tech love story,” said Word-Daniels. “It’s real meaningful for us because that’s where Shaday and I first met.
“I was the older upperclassman, football player, and she came in as a freshman playing basketball,” he continued. “We caught each other’s eye one day in the training room at Georgia Tech. From there, we started talking, got to know each other, and built a friendship that’s lasted through the years.”
Word-Daniels built a solid resume in playing four years at Georgia Tech (2005-08). He played all four years, making 124 tackles (103 solo), 7.0 for loss, with five career interceptions and 23 pass break-ups in 42 games (25 starts). Injury limited him to seven games his senior season, but he remained a major factor in transitioning a young secondary from Chan Gailey to Paul Johnson.
“There were a lot of benefits for playing with both of them,” he said. “Both were great coaches, great individuals and I’m happy I was able to play with both of them to kind of have those unique experiences.”
Part of his unique experience came as a freshman, when was introduced to sophomore wide receiver Calvin Johnson by lining up against him.
“I did have to go cover him. I don’t know if it was so much an initiation as it was more so there’s no one else at the time,” he recalled, with a laugh. “When we scrimmaged or practiced, the freshmen are on the scout teams. That means they got to step up and go against him. It probably helped me stand out a little more with what I was doing and my abilities. Playing against everyone else is not going to be as intimidating because you’ve already faced somebody who is 6-5, 230 pounds and can run a 4.3. When else are you going to see that?”
Word-Daniels wouldn’t but he would be well prepared when he took the field and would make and see plenty of memorable moments.
He’d see Georgia Tech get to the 2006 ACC Championship game as champions of the Coastal Division. Over the next two seasons, both as a starting corner, he would see the Yellow Jackets record statement wins at Notre Dame and at Georgia, although he would leave the Notre Dame game and not be able to play at Georgia due to different injuries.
Still, he cherishes those games, those moments.
“That was a great feeling, especially having been involved the year before at our place,” he said of the 33-3 thrashing of the Irish at South Bend on Sept. 1, 2007. “To really pay them back and take it to them at their house, there’s nothing better than that. I was very happy at the end of the day. My head was still hurting but I was a happy camper.
“When we beat Georgia in 2008 (45-42), even though it’s the one game that stands out most to me, it also was bittersweet, because I did not play,” he continued. “But I was so happy for my teammates and all the guys I’d been lining up along side for the last several years. To be able to come out with a victory, not having beaten Georgia in however long it was, was a true highlight.”
Even with missing the final six games of the ’08 season, Word-Daniels earned respect enough to be selected for the East-West Shrine Game (he would not play because of the injury).
His talent and refusal to give up on his dream, led to his getting a chance in 2009, with the Detroit Lions, where he would once again play with, and practice against, Johnson.
“It was funny to cover Calvin all over again when I got to Detroit,” he said. “I kind of knew his movements and how he ran his routs a little bit so it kind of gave me a little bit of an edge, made me look a little bit better at practice, covering him. It was fun being able to do it again. It kind of felt like déjà vu.”
He’d make an impact on Nov. 26, Thanksgiving Day, as with 12:01 remaining in the second quarter against Green Bay, he brought down Packers punt-returner Jordy Nelson at the Detroit 37.
“On the inside I felt like I had just won the Super Bowl. I had made my first tackle as an NFL player,” he said. “I felt blessed to be able to have that opportunity to have played on that stage. I can pass on that experience and what I’ve learned from it to other guys who are aspiring to make it there.”
He’d play one more NFL game before the injury bug bit him again. Instead of rehabbing for another go at the NFL world, he thought more practically and chose to get ready for the real one.
The first step was going back to Georgia Tech in the fall of 2011 to get his degree.
“My mother wouldn’t let me back in the house if I didn’t have plans to finish my degree,” he kidded. “In my mind it didn’t make sense NOT to go back being so close to finishing. I’m not a quitter and that’s something that you kind of learn from playing sports, to always push through. I applied that to school. For me it was a no-brainer to make sure I finished that. Part of the reason I picked Georgia Tech in the first place was because of their combination of having good athletic programs but also how they were held in high esteem across the country and the world education-wise.”
He completed his requirements and received his degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing and graduated in December 2012. He’s been putting his degree to good use over the last two years with RaceTrac, for whom he’s a promotional specialist.
The Fall 2012 commencement was the first ever held at McCamish Pavilion.
It’s only fitting that on July 12, McCamish Pavilion will be where he sees, and celebrates with Shaday, his next life moment.
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