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By Rob Vanstone, 09/14/22, 7:00AM MDT


The Regina Thunder has been known to celebrate a Boston TD party — thanks to Isaiah Woodley.

The Regina Thunder has been known to celebrate a Boston TD party — thanks to Isaiah Woodley.

The lightning-fast receiver, who hails from the Boston suburb of Milton, Mass., has four touchdowns in as many games this season for the Prairie Football Conference’s lone undefeated team.

With each major, Woodley pays tribute to a loved one while simultaneously appreciating his teammates.

“It feels like everyone is working together for that ultimate goal,” he says, “and when I score a touchdown, it feels like I’m scoring it for everyone.”

That was especially true Saturday night, when Woodley caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Carter Shewchuk with 16.8 seconds remaining against the arch-rival Saskatoon Hilltops.

Eric Maximuik ’s convert created a 21-21 tie and forced an overtime session in which the Thunder handled all the scoring en route to a 29-21 victory.

Next up for the Thunder is Saturday’s rematch (1 p.m., Mosaic Stadium) against a Saskatoon team that has won the last seven PFC championships.

Fittingly, the Hilltops also have a Boston influence. Their lineup includes the league’s leading rusher, Boston Davidsen, who has 520 yards for the 2-2 Hilltops.

“You can’t make it up,” Woodley marvels of the Boston coincidence.

The personable pass-catcher excelled in basketball, football and track and field at Milton High School.

From there, he headed to Dakota College at Bottineau, where he played National Junior College Athletic Association basketball in North Dakota during the 2020-21 season — after which head coach Brock Lemon stepped down.

“I was really battling with whether I was going to stay or if I was going to leave,” Woodley recalls. “A guy by the name of Mike Smith knew about a junior football program and he let me know about it, because I had played football two years prior to that.

“He let me know that the competition is still pretty good, even though it’s in Canada. There’s a stigma about football in Canada and how it’s different from football back home.”

Woodley soon touched base with Thunder head coach Scott MacAulay and made arrangements to join the team for the 2021 season.

“I really thought it was giving me a new way to play football,” Woodley says. “I was kind of intrigued by the idea of playing football again because, after high school, I didn’t think I was going to play football. I was going to strictly be a basketball player.

“But then things changed, and it led to it being a blessing in disguise to be able to come to Canada, because I’m so grateful that I got an opportunity to come here and play.”

As a first year PFC player, Woodley finished seventh in the league in receiving yards (416) while averaging 20.6 yards per catch and putting his speed — he covers the 40-yard dash in a brisk 4.43 seconds — to good use.

The most memorable of his 20 receptions in 2021 was a 36-yard touchdown, scored with 1:14 remaining in the fourth quarter, that lifted the Thunder to a 29-27 victory over the Hilltops on Sept. 18 at Mosaic Stadium .

This year, Woodley has already exceeded last season’s reception total. He has 23 catches — one behind the league’s leader, teammate Isaac Foord — for 375 yards. The latter total places Woodley third in the junior loop, behind the Winnipeg Rifles’ Jake Roger (473) and Foord (417). Foord and Woodley are the PFC’s co-leaders in touchdown catches.

As recently as two years ago, Woodley could not have foreseen any of this.

“I knew Canada existed because of Drake, but that was really about it,” he says with a chuckle. “I didn’t know what Saskatchewan was.

“Never in a million years could I have imagined myself being at a place like this. That just goes to show you that you really never know — because I never thought I’d be playing football again.

“So when I came here, it felt like it gave me a last chance to show what I have left in the football tank. I’m just grateful for the opportunity from the organization.

“I’m grateful to Murad (Al-Katib, team president), to Scott, and to all the coaches for trusting in me, because it’s hard to bring a kid in from Boston. You don’t know what to expect.

“It’s not like I came here for a visit. I talked to (MacAulay) over the phone. Just being humble enough to come here and to be greeted by the guys, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Especially when the long-distance angle pertains to communicating with loved ones from Massachusetts — not just touchdown bombs thrown by Shewchuk.

“I call my family,” says the 21-year-old son of Robert and Ria Woodley. “I talk to my mom. I talk to my siblings. I’ve got 13 brothers and sisters, so I have quite a big family.

“It’s obviously difficult being away from my family and not being able to see my mom or my dad or my siblings, but the Thunder has created such a good culture that, when I first came in, it made me feel like I have family here already. It makes me feel like I’ve got brothers that I can really count on.

“When you’re far away from home, you want to be reserved and you don’t want to do too much, but I came here with a purpose in mind and that was to play football. I understood the risks, coming all the way to a different country and being away from home. But, at the same time, that is what you have to do when you have goals and aspirations.

“This is a great organization that took me in as a brother. Obviously, they like good players and they like athletes, but it’s great when you come into a new situation and they’re saying ‘I’ve got your back’ and ‘whatever you need’ and ‘let me know if you need a ride to practice,’ it makes me feel like I’ve got family here already.”

One family member is never far away from his heart — nearly 3,500 kilometres from home.

A sister, named Blessing, passed away about a decade ago due to complications at birth.

“Being as young as I was at the time, I didn’t understand,” Woodley says, “but she’s my driver — my driving force.

“I’ve got her name tattooed across my chest. Whenever I score a touchdown, I look up in the sky. I know she’s always with me.

“She’s a blessing. I just try to look at situations that don’t go in my favour and just realize that it could be worse. I could be in a different situation, so I always think of the positives.

“God is good. He gave me another sister after that, so I can’t complain. I’m just blessed.”