Speed is in DeAndra’e Woods’ blood. His brother ran. His sister ran. So did his mother. His great-uncle too. So when Woods, at age four, joined the MLK Blasters track and field club team in his hometown of San Diego, California, the rhythm of the sport came easily.
“I fell in love with coming around the turn,” Woods said. “Even coming around the turn in first, that anxiety or feeling that excitement that takes over … it’s pretty cool.”
Woods is stocky and muscular; he looks like a powerhouse. His body seems to hum with a pent-up, staccato energy that seems to threaten to burst out at any second. Before Woods became head coach of Chapman’s track and field team in 2017, he danced from sport to sport, eventually landing back at track in high school.
After Woods broke away from track and field he tried his hand at baseball. A little football too — but nothing stuck for long. In the early 2000s as a student at Steele Canyon High School in Spring Valley, California, Woods wound up back on the track – he liked the victory of it and the fact that whatever you put in, you got out. In the 100-meter dash during high school, Woods’ time averaged at just over 11.5 seconds.
“When it’s only a team sport, you can work really, really hard … but you may not be a starter. Or you may not be the one that gets a chance to make the game-winning catch,” Woods said. “The cards don’t always align like that.”
As he ran, he realized this was what he might want to pursue as a career. But “this” didn’t end up being track. It was coaching.
Majoring in kinesiology at California State University, Fullerton, Woods served as team captain from 2010 to 2012. In 2010, he cut his time for the 100-meter sprint to his a personal best of 10.88 seconds.
After a stint assistant coaching at Concordia University, Irvine, Woods landed at Chapman, where he’s brought the track and field team to record-setting heights. Cal State Fullerton is Division I and Concordia is Division II – so bringing his expertise and professional expectations to Chapman’s Division III sports program was, as Woods puts it, “difficult.” But Woods doesn’t see his expectations as high. To him, it’s just doing things the right way.
“This is a commitment, regardless of the division,” Woods said. “All athletes are athletes.”
And for Woods and his athletes, having a “Division I attitude” on a Division III campus is starting to get the team results. At the Ben Brown Invitational March 9, sophomore Gabi Siguenza broke a school record in the 400-meter hurdles, coming in at 1:07.96. She broke it again by a second and a half the following week. One rising freshman track star Arabella Reece ran 17:42.62 in the 5000-meter race, beating a school record established in 1988 by a little less than 12 seconds.
“We had electrical performances,” Woods said.
Sophomore Aki Shigeyama, who hit a personal best of 51.87 seconds in the 400-meter at the March 9 meet and knocked it down to 50.27 at a March 30 conference multi-duals meet, said he knows Woods as a players-first coach. Shigeyama joined the team as a freshman with no prior track experience.
“When I first met Coach Woods, I knew he was going to be all in,” Shigeyama said.
And Woods is not in coaching for the glory of it. He’s in it for his players.
“When you’re able to push them to the limit and they get better and you see their excitement, you see how pumped up they get, that changes for you,” Woods said.