Rejection, Boyhood and Danny Woodhead

“You know how everyone’s always saying, 'seize the moment?' I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.”

– Nicole in "Boyhood

Danny Woodhead isn't a typical NFL player. He's small: 5-foot-8, 200 pounds. If he joined your friends for a Thanksgiving football game, you wouldn't look twice at him.

Then he'd get on the field and outrun you like he was being chased by the devil.
During the making of Slacker, Richard Linklater went to a convenience store one night to pick up food for the crew. When he tried to pay, his credit card was rejected. It was maxed out.

All Linklater's cards were maxed out. He had gone broke, staking everything on a movie that was so ahead of its time it was soundly rejected by every film festival, including Sundance. It's ironic, because Sundance's only purpose was -- and is -- to seek out movies like Slacker.

Linklater didn't quit. He kept grinding, willing Slacker into Sundance the next year. Now, it's considered a classic, and Austin is the biggest independent film scene on the planet because of it.

What would've happened if Linklater had given up that night? Would we be sitting here hashing out his magnum opus, Boyhood, the most insightful movie about adolescence ever made?

Coming out of high school, Woodhead didn't get a single offer from a Division I school, so he went to Division II Chadron State, where he racked up 7,962 rushing yards, the most all-time at any level of college football.  

He went undrafted in 2008 and was signed by the Jets. He missed his rookie season with a knee injury and hardly played the following year before being cut. Guess who picked him up in 2010? Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Only a coach who flaunts convention would have the foresight to nab a player as unconventional as Woodhead and turn him into a legitimate backfield threat.

Last year, his first with the Chargers, Woodhead was second in the NFL among running backs in both catches (77) and receiving touchdowns (6).

Watching him in person against the Cowboys Thursday, Woodhead reminded me of the Houston Rockets' Patrick Beverly. He plays with the same reckless abandon, like he doesn't deserve to be there, like he's afraid he’ll get cut at any moment. It's that desperation that's kept him in the big dance for seven seasons.

Here are some running backs taken in the '08 draft: Mike Hart, Xavier Omon, Thomas Brown, Marcus Thomas, Tim Hightower, Ryan Torain, Tashard Choice, Steve Slaton, Kevin Smith. None of them are still in the league.

I'm sure they had more pure, physical talent. I'm sure they performed well at the NFL Combine that Woodhead wasn't even invited too. But none of them had his drive.

After Slacker, Linklater could have stagnated, gone the traditional directorial route making nuts-and-bolts studio films. He did anything but, pushing the envelope with genre-benders like Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly, Before Sunset, Dazed and Confused and Me and Orson Welles.  

It's some amalgamation of rejection, heartache and sacrifice that made Linklater and Woodhead great.

It’s that combination that gave Linklater the patience to stage a literal 12-year epic, and Woodhead the will to keep a job in the toughest league in the world.

 “You don't want the bumpers, life doesn't give you bumpers,” Boyhood’s Mason Sr. tells his son at a bowling alley.  

He’s right.

Follow Faris Tanyos on Twitter @OnlyFairchild

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