By Tim Linafelt, Senior Staff Writer
From his place in the Florida State defense, Jaiden Lars-Woodbey analyzes an opponent’s formation, quickly determines the proper response and, in the span of a few seconds, is ready to make a play.
From his seat in a classroom on FSU’s campus, it’s much of the same – only with fewer bruises.
Lars-Woodbey is presented with a project or problem, determines the best course of action, then commits to it with everything that he has.
To Lars-Woodbey, a redshirt sophomore defensive back from Fontana, California, pursuits in football and academics are one and the same, as is his passion for each of them.
“It all correlates,” Lars-Woodbey said. “How you approach the football field is the same as how you approach the classroom. Whether people believe it or not, the little details that you have in the classroom are going to be the same little details that you have on the field.”
Lars-Woodbey’s production in each avenue shows that he’s right. A former five-star prospect and a member of FSU’s signing class of 2018, Lars-Woodbey has started in each of his 16 career appearances and had logged 77 career tackles, nine pass breakups and a forced fumble before suffering a season-ending injury early in the 2019 campaign.
“He’s just a young man that approaches things the way that we hope and aspire that everybody would.”Head Coach Mike Norvell
All the while, Lars-Woodbey has maintained a 3.3 grade-point average and, thanks to a heavy course load of 19 credit hours, is on track to graduate this summer with a bachelor’s degree in international affairs, with a focus in urban and regional development.
Once he has that degree in hand, Lars-Woodbey will begin work toward another – this one in modern languages.
And he’s particularly excited about that.
“Languages are going to be in my future,” Lars-Woodbey said. Several of them, in fact.
Inspired by his girlfriend, FSU swimmer and Brazil native Ana Zortea, Lars-Woodbey set out to learn Portuguese.
With Zortea’s guidance, Lars-Woodbey charted a course of books, YouTube videos and subtitled movies to immerse himself in the language.
And although Portuguese is not officially offered as part of Florida State’s curriculum, Lars-Woodbey found plenty of support on campus through BraSa – the Brazilian Student Association at FSU.
The club, founded by FSU students in 2007, is open to anyone interested in the Portuguese language and Brazilian culture. BraSa hosts bi-weekly conversation hours (known as a “Bate-Papo”) and holds several cultural, social and academic events throughout the year.
Lars-Woodbey found in it an outlet to pursue Portuguese while expanding his social circle on campus.
“For me, it was one of those things where I could just relax and take my mind off of football,” Lars-Woodbey said. “One of those hobbies that you have.”
No, it wasn’t easy at first. Speaking Portuguese in a proper accent proved challenging, as did wading through all the words and phrases that sound similar when spoken by native speakers.
But with a little bit of determination, as well as a hand-written notebook full of translations and grammar, Lars-Woodbey started to get the hang of it.
He compared the experience to wading into the ocean for the first time.
“You’re walking into the water and all of the waves are splashing on the rocks and splashing on you,” he said. “It’s really hard.
“But the deeper and deeper that you get into the water, the easier it gets. The calmer the water gets. That’s pretty much how it is with languages, too.”
Lars-Woodbey’s passion for languages has since evolved into much more than a hobby.
Now fluent in Portuguese, Lars-Woodbey has decided to keep going.
He’s enrolled in French classes already and, once he’s satisfied with his progress en français, Lars-Woodbey intends to move straight into Spanish.
If all goes according to his plan – and, at this point, who would bet against him? – Lars-Woodbey will have learned three new languages before his 21st birthday.
“Once you’re able to speak another language, you’re able to open yourself up to a whole new group of people,” he said. “You have access to a whole group of people, which is amazing.”
“Once you’re able to speak another language, you’re able to open yourself up to a whole new group of people. You have access to a whole group of people, which is amazing.”Jaiden Lars-Woodbey
How exactly Lars-Woodbey will marry his passion for urban development with his love of languages remains to be seen, although an international canvas seems like an obvious option.
He’s already proven himself to be game for extended travel.
Despite growing up in Southern California, Lars-Woodbey found a dream school in Florida State on January 6, 2014, when he and his brother were in the stands at the Rose Bowl for the Seminoles’ championship triumph over Auburn.
“Kelvin Benjamin caught the game-winning touchdown in front of us,” he said.
Lars-Woodbey always knew he wanted to leave home for college, and his success in football guaranteed that he could go just about anywhere he wanted.
Transition between coaching staffs meant that an offer from Lars-Woodbey’s dream school didn’t come until the 11th hour, just days before he was due to sign with another institution.
But when it did come, Lars-Woodbey’s mind was made up.
A few days and about 3,000 miles later, he was in Tallahassee.
Since then, there have been both good times (like earning freshman All-America honors) and tough times (like suffering the first serious injury of his life), but Lars-Woodbey counts it all as part of the process of growing into adulthood.
“Everything that’s happened in college has helped me become a better man today,” he said. “I think I’ve learned how to manage my emotions a lot better. I’ve learned how to think things all the way through. I’ve learned that, at the end of the day, you’re only cheating yourself when you don’t give yourself the opportunity to fully reach your goals.”
As he nears the end of a busy second year at Florida State, Lars-Woodbey still has goals in mind and, no surprise, he’s determined to reach them.
That much was obvious to head coach Mike Norvell as he watched the way Lars-Woodbey carried himself on the practice fields a few weeks ago.
Despite the fact that Lars-Woodbey was still a limited participant while recovering from his injury, Norvell saw a player who was focused, mentally engaged and fully committed to making the most of what he could.
More often than not, that meant coaching up his teammates.
“That was probably one of most impressive things that I saw over those three (practice) days,” Norvell said. “Because he’s involved and actively putting himself into practice from the mental aspect of it, even when he’s limited (with) some of the things physically.
“He’s just a young man that approaches things the way that we hope and aspire that everybody would.”
They’ve only known each other for a few months, but, upon Norvell’s arrival in Tallahassee late last year, Norvell said something that quickly resonated with Lars-Woodbey, and that the player has carried with him ever since.
“How you do anything is how you do everything,” Norvell said, and Lars-Woodbey recalled, word for word.
“And that’s so true,” Lars-Woodbey continued. “How you approach anything is how you’re going to approach everything.”
As far as Norvell is concerned, Lars-Woodbey’s approach to everything is at an elite level.
That includes the football field, the film room, weekly sessions with Portuguese-speaking classmates, and whatever else Lars-Woodbey might dive into next.
“He’s an extremely well-rounded, successful young man,” Norvell said. “Anything that’s put in front of him he tries to attack with a championship-level mindset and approach.”