Jim Woodall began his career in organized athletics as a freshman at West Fannin High School in 1957 and ended it at Northwest Whitfield High School in 2008. He was involved in competitive athletics as a player or coach for roughly 47 of those years. In recognition of his many accomplishments during that period, Jim has been elected to the 2014 class of the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame.
Jim was an excellent all-around athlete. He and his older brother Charles hailed from the community of Epworth. Charles was the first outstanding athlete at West Fannin High School, but he only had one year of high school competition to showcase his talents. Charles was a senior at West Fannin in the school’s first year of 1955-56, so his football career was limited to that one year. Tiny Epworth High School, which was one of the schools consolidated into West Fannin High School, did not have a football team.
By the time Jim started his freshman year in the fall of 1957, however, West Fannin High School offered a full menu of 4 competitive sports. Jim’s best sport was football, but he did play on the varsity basketball team for one season and competed in baseball and track and field throughout his high school years. He was a power-hitting catcher for the Yellow Jacket baseball team and a speedy runner who was a member of the 440-yard relay team that won first place in that event at the 1960 Region 3AA track and field meet.
His speed and elusiveness led Jim to a starting role in the West Fannin backfield. His blocking ability was the stuff of legend. He was also a hard hitter and outstanding on the defensive side of the ball. He won a starting halfback and defensive back position on the 1959 team. He started the 1959 season with a bang, scoring two touchdowns in the Yellow Jacket opening game victory over Swain County High School in Bryson City, North Carolina. West Fannin had lost to the North Carolinians three times in prior years by a combined score of 102-27, but the 152-pound Woodall started the payback early in the first quarter by returning a pass interception 71 yards for the first West Fannin touchdown. He later had a touchdown run from scrimmage in the rather unexpected 32-7 victory. Jim’s performance in this game earned him a spot on the Atlanta Constitution Prep Football Honor Roll the following Monday.
In 1960, Raymond Montgomery took over the head coaching reins at West Fannin. He inherited a potentially strong team that boasted 14 returning senior lettermen. After surveying the scene, Montgomery decided that Jim Woodall’s skills would best be utilized, both offensively and defensively, at one of the end positions. Jim, who had now grown to 162 pounds, excelled immediately on the flank of the scrimmage line. His blocking was a thing to behold. Rene Godfrey gives Woodall credit for making the block that sprang Godfrey on his touchdown run in the 7-6 upset of Dalton in 1960. Old-time fans still remember the sight of a Ringgold defender a foot above the ground, upside-down and totally PERPENDICULAR to the ground as a result of a crushing block by Woodall on another touchdown run. Jim was selected as the Lineman of the Week by the Copper City Advance for his efforts in the Rossville game and he capped off the 6-3-1 season by hauling in a touchdown pass in the season-ending rout of Copper Basin.
Jim was an honor student at West Fannin graduating with the Class of 1961. He was out of school a few months before deciding to enroll at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tennessee. He and West Fannin teammate Gene Crawford were football walk-ons at that school in the spring of 1962.
It is often difficult for walk-ons to get attention, but Jim remembers one particular play that spring that got the attention of the Tech coaching staff. Jim was playing defensive back on a play calling for a short pass to a running back coming out of the backfield. Jim says that he “just did what he was supposed to do” by closing fast and stopping the running back in his tracks on an especially loud hit. Assistant Coach Ray Drost, a hard-nosed, no nonsense man who played guard for the Tennessee Vols in the 1940s, took particular notice and made sure that Woodall got lots of attention after that tackle. After spring drills, Jim was offered a scholarship and went on to letter for the Golden Eagles as a fullback in the 1963 and 1964 seasons.
In late 1964 Jim had surgery on a knee that had been a chronic problem and soon afterward completed his degree requirements. Although he had another year of football eligibility, he decided to forgo his senior season and start a career in the coaching profession. Jim was passionate about coaching youngsters, had lots of football experience and savvy and had the same coaching philosophy that he had developed as a player: “Just do what you are supposed to do”.
A couple of opportunities came along for Jim Woodall in the fall of 1965. He was offered the head coaching position at East Fannin High School. He was also offered a position as an assistant coach at the new Cleveland, Tennessee High School that had been split from the huge Bradley County High School. The opportunities at Cleveland were just too great to pass up, and Jim became the first assistant coach in the history of Cleveland High School. In 1968 he was selected as the Coach of the Year on the Chattanooga News-Free Press All Tri-State Football team.
Jim stayed at Cleveland for eleven years and saw many of his players go on to enjoy successful college careers. While at Cleveland, he was also called upon to serve as head coach of the baseball and track squads at various times.
Woodall left coaching for private business in 1975, but re-entered the coaching profession at Bradley Central High School in 1980. He was at Bradley for 19 years and attempted to retire in 1998. He was quickly lured back into coaching, however, and accepted an assistant coaching job at NW Whitfield High School in nearby North Georgia. He remained there for ten seasons before permanently retiring in 2008.
Overall, Jim Woodall’s coaching career spanned 40 years. He left quite a legacy as a player and as a coach and the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame is proud to welcome him as a member.
Jim and his wife Rosemary continue to reside in the Cleveland, Tennessee area. He has two adult children, Jamie and Jason. Jim is an avid duck hunter and teaches a Sunday school class at his church.