Last night we saw the Chicago Bears drop a close preseason contest to the Indianapolis Colts, but the regular season remains only a few short weeks away. With just 21 days remaining until the first Sunday of the NFL's regular season, today's installment of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff brings us to the life and career of the best player in franchise history to don the number 21, cornerback Donnell Woolford.
Donnell Woolford goes from All-Time Clemson great to Chicago Bears draft pick
Originally hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Donnell Woolford grew up mainly in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he eventually attended Douglas Byrd High School. There, Woolford participated in the school's football, basketball, and track teams.
Woolford shined as a running back on the gridiron and quickly became one of the state's top high school rushing threats. After he graduated from the school, Woolford elected to sign with the nearby Clemson Tigers, where his football path took an unexpected turn.
Despite being a top running back in his high school class, Woolford realized upon his arrival at Clemson that the team already had a number of great rushers and that he would probably be buried on the depth chart for some time. Therefore, Woolford chose to pursue a position change, and upon seeing that the cornerback was perhaps the smallest unit on the team, he joined the group ahead of his freshman season.
In his first year with the team, Woolford was used sparingly on defense and recorded just one interception on the season. As a sophomore, his usage increased as a cornerback and he also saw playing time as the team's punt returner. He ended his second season with three interceptions and accumulated nearly 200 yards as a returner.
By his junior season, Woolford had earned a starting cornerback position and quickly became one of the best defenders in school history. His 1987 season featured an impressive four interceptions alongside over 350 return yards and two touchdowns on special teams. Woolford helped the team reach a 10-2 record, their best finish since 1981. The team won the ensuing Citrus Bowl, and Woolford was named a second-team All-American following the breakout season.
Entering his senior season, Woolford was considered a premier cornerback of his class, and his turnover production dipped slightly due to opponents being unwilling to test him in coverage. Despite being named a consensus All-American in 1988, Woolford finished the year with just one interception. Nonetheless, the standout defender helped the team post another 10-2 record. A top-10 team throughout the season, Clemson repeated as Citrus Bowl champions in Woolford's final collegiate outing.
At the end of his collegiate career, Woolford entered the 1989 NFL Draft and was regarded as one of the top defensive back prospects of his class. The Chicago Bears used the 11th overall pick to add the Clemson standout, making him the second-highest drafted cornerback of his class after Deion Sanders. Woolford joined Trace Armstrong, the 12th overall selection, as the team's top draft choices in a class where the team also added several future starters, including center Jerry Fontenot.