Life of a college athlete: Tucker Woolum
Tucker Woolum woke up early on an August morning and made his way to eat breakfast at 6 a.m. Last year, early mornings and late evenings were nothing out of the ordinary for the former Pineville standout, who just wrapped up his freshman year as a D-I quarterback at Western Carolina University.
Similar to boot camp in the military, Woolum’s mornings were structured as the team went through camp in preparation for the upcoming season.
“After breakfast, we come in and go over what we are going to do in practice and watch film, then we go and have a two and a half hour practice and then we all go to lunch together,” said Woolum about his daily routine while in training camp. “After that, we get a two-hour break, then we come back in watch film of practice from earlier that day. After film, we have a little walk through and team meeting and then we all go to dinner and the day is over.”
Things aren’t vastly different once the season starts with Woolum getting up at 5:45 a.m. to hit the weights and eat breakfast before classes. When his school day wraps up, his football day begins with film and pre-practice starting at 3 p.m. The day ends with practice.
Life as a collegiate athlete has been a learning experience for Woolum, who ended his tenure at Pineville with 1,059 yards rushing and 2,018 yards passing in his final year as a Mountain Lion. A consecutive starter from the time he touched the field as a freshman in Pineville, Woolum is was on the scout team during his first year at WCU.
“Going from Pineville to (Western Carolina) was crazy because I went from playing every down in high school to being on scout team my first year of college,” said Woolum. “It just showed me how much work I need to put in and how much better the competition is in college than high school. I have to earn everything if I want to play.”
The former Pineville standout’s main role as a Catamount was being a signal caller to the offense from the sidelines so the unit could get the play without huddling – a part of their no-huddle offense.
“I was very shocked on how much of a difference the speed part of the game was. Everybody is faster and stronger,” said Woolum. “(I was also shocked) how being a college athlete was more of a job than a game.”
The tempo of practices was something else Woolum had to get used to as a D-I athlete. Sometimes focusing only on defense or offense for a whole day at Pineville, he had to adjust to a more physical, high tempo practice.
“It is nonstop. In high school, we would sometimes just practice offense one day and defense the next because we didn’t have enough people,” said Woolum. “In college, each unit is always going and trying to get better. College practices are also way more physical.”
The massive changes in lifestyle about got the best of Woolum, who was not only adjusting to a new life in football but also a life that was 157 miles away from home.
“One of my worst experiences was last summer when I first reported,” said Woolum. “A couple of weeks after I became very home sick and was questioning myself if I wanted to keep playing or not.”
Coming from a family known for athletics, Woolum stuck to his guns and finished the season, a move that allowed him to make new friends and experience the joy of discovering a new place.
Life off the field was just as big of a change as life on the field. Woolum went from knowing every student that graced the halls of Pineville to seeing a new person every day.
“At Pineville, I knew everybody while walking around school. I really don’t think there was one person in the high school that I did not know their name,” said Woolum. “While in college, you see new people every single day and you and your friends all have different schedules, so you are on your own a lot.
“One of the big differences about being a college athlete is in college you have mandatory study hall where you have to go in for an hour a day and get your homework finished. They also are checking all the time what your grades are and if you are eligible to play. In high school, it was more laid back.”
Heading into his second season with the Catamounts, Woolum will be experiencing yet another change – transitioning from quarterback to wide receiver.
“The thing I’m most excited for heading into my second year is the transition from a quarterback to and wide receiver and working hard at becoming a good wide receiver,” said the former four-year starter under center. “(I plan on) getting my hands better and putting in a lot of time perfecting my route running and understanding how to play wide receiver correctly.”
For players about to enter their first year as collegiate football player, Woolum has a message – don’t get discouraged.
“The first year is rough. You will get home sick, and you will want to quit at times,” said Woolum. “But, you only have four or five years and you will likely never play football again. So, enjoy it. It gets better. Once you get over the home sickness and realize your role, then you will have a blast with it.”
Western Carolina opens the season at 6 p.m. on Sept.1 against Newberry.