Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard's most important role: dad

In honor of Father's Day, Lisa Zimmerman explores how being a dad has impacted the lives of five members of the NFL family.

A 10-year NFL veteran, Wesley Woodyard grew up in a family so large that he describes it as a community. His one brother, a half-brother and half-sister are just the beginning. With six aunts and uncles on his mother's side alone, the Tennessee Titans linebacker estimates that he has somewhere between 200 and 300 cousins, most of whom grew up together as one big extended family in his hometown of LaGrange, Georgia.

Growing up in that type of close-knit family environment, Woodyard always knew he wanted to have a family of his own. Now, he and his wife, Veronica, are the parents of three children: son Greyson, 5, and daughters Noah, 2, and Luca, 1.

Woodyard's career was already well under way before the couple's first child arrived, so while it was a lifestyle change, it was one that Woodyard happily embraced.

"I think it changed me by putting things in perspective," he said. "Trying to be a good example for them. When you see them, it makes you want to do everything right. Those lessons that you learned in life, whether hard or easy, you want to share it with them. It makes me want to be great."

And while family time is sometimes at the mercy of his NFL schedule, Woodyard makes sure that when he's home, he's all in.

"You've got to make sure every empty space of the day is with them. I can say for the most part I try to give all my time when I'm home to my kids. I try to focus and be the best dad. It's bigger than the game of football. You don't want your kids to be like, 'That's my dad, the football player,' I want them to say, 'That's my father.' "

He also is committed to being a parent first, not a friend, believing that the role as father is far more important.

"When I punish him, my son says, 'Daddy, you're not my best friend.' And I say, 'I don't care that I'm not your best friend, I'm your father.' "

While he acknowledged it can sting to hear those words, it also makes him proud that his son sees him clearly as the parent.

"It's the saddest and happiest moment at the same time," he said.

Woodyard credits the strong partnership he has with his wife for keeping everything running as smoothly as possible and instilling a sense of security and boundaries for the children.

"All my kids have been sleep-trained," he said. "She stuck to a strict script. But it's definitely a co-parenting, 50/50 household -- although my wife picks up the slack during the season. She'll get up in the middle of the night for the kids because I get up at 5 a.m. But I'll be up if I need to be up."

He also shared that he and his fellow players good-naturedly challenge and compete with each other to be the best fathers they can be.

"The NFL locker room gives us that bond of fatherhood outside the game," he said. "We challenge each other to be better dads. Being what a father is supposed to be. We compete as to who the best father is. It's about showing love and spending time with your kids. Showing them things that you didn't have a chance to be. We all want to be the greatest father for our kids."

Woodyard believes strongly that putting all of that focus into raising his children is the most important component in ensuring the closeness of their family unit, as well as building a strong foundation of success for his children's futures.

"Earlier in my career, I was more selfish in my time," he said. "Once you get older, you're being wiser and smarter and locked in on the job. [Having children] slowed my life down. I have a schedule and have a family that's dependent on me. This is the life I wanted to live."

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