SAN ANTONIO — Tariq Woolen’s career on defense is just getting started.
Woolen came to UTSA as a receiver, switched positions to cornerback as a sophomore, and is now poised to be the third player in Roadrunner history ever selected in the NFL Draft.
“I never played defense my entire life,” Woolen said. “One day at the back of a receiver meeting, Coach Wilson pulled me to the back and was like, ‘I want you to try out playing cornerback.’”
Woolen — who played sparingly as a receiver his first two years at UTSA — reluctantly agreed to the change.
“I didn’t embrace it at first. I was just thinking, you know, why me? Why are they switching my position?” Woolen said. “But once I started to embrace it, I started to have fun.”
He saw action in the final two games of the 2019 season. Coach Frank Wilson was fired after the season, putting Woolen’s position switch in question.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. That’s when Woolen got an Instagram message from a FedEx delivery driver in San Antonio.
“Nobody at the time knew if I was gonna play receiver or corner,” Woolen said. “I decided myself just to buy into it, and I started training with him.”
The driver’s name was Thailand Pierce. He was a defensive back himself who played Arena Football.
“I train a lot of athletes and they don’t return. He stuck with it.” Pierce said. “We did a lot of conditioning. We did our runs around the neighborhood, got field work in. We did everything.”
It was valuable practice time that solidified Woolen’s move to cornerback once current UTSA coach Jeff Traylor and his staff were hired.
“Sometimes when you’re uncomfortable, that’s a good thing,” Woolen said. “I was never comfortable switching positions, but I noticed when I was uncomfortable and I kept my faith, it led to tremendous growth.”
His growth, along with his raw athleticism, were displayed at the NFL Combine in March.
“I knew I was gonna run a fast 40 time. I knew it was gonna be 4.2s. It just was a matter of time for the world to see it,” Woolen said.
His official time was 4.26 seconds. It tied for the fourth-fastest 40-yard-dash time in the history of the event.
“My notifications on my Apple watch started to go a little crazy,” Woolen said.
The craziness hasn’t stopped and neither has the buzz about Woolen’s NFL potential. Being drafted in the second or third round is now a real possibility.
“It doesn’t feel real honestly. It hasn’t really sunk in,” Woolen said. “It’s pretty crazy that I’m reaping the blessings that come with the game of football.”
And the rewards for trusting himself enough to make a change that’s about to be life-changing, for Woolen and his family.
“I just know when the time comes, I’ll be ready,” said Woolen about getting drafted. “I’ll be crying tears of joy for sure.”