Life-changing opportunities can come when you least expect them. Sometimes, you need to create them for yourself, even if it means giving up something you love in the process.
For senior thrower Jared Louf-Woods, the chance to attend college may not have been possible outside of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. The possibility of him switching from one sport to another would not have been a reality if he competed in a higher athletic division. But it's safe to say, that one of the newest Corsair All-Americans has done the most with the options he was presented.
"I graduated Salem High and I didn't have the best of GPA [grade point average], but I was able to get into UMass Dartmouth through the College Now Program," Louf-Woods said.
"Without College Now, I don't think I would have been able to make it academically. Meeting with your counselor and knowing that someone cares about not only you but your performance in the classroom, it was definitely an eye-opening experience."
Louf-Woods enrolled in The College Now program during the fall of 2014. College Now provides borderline academic students direct-guidance as they transition into the grueling demand of college. It is a period where they must excel in the classroom in order to become a full-time student. He was also a student-athlete as a member of the UMass Dartmouth football team.
Louf-Woods succeeded in his first semester at UMass Dartmouth, approaching his education with the same focus as sports. During the spring of 2015, just after his freshman season of football, he curiously stumbled upon a high school passion – track and field.
"Football season ended and I was a little bored. I saw one of my roommates go down to the gym every day. I had broken the shot put record in high school so I asked if they had any good shot putters. He said 'not really," Jared said recalling the day.
"So, I go down and in my first meet with UMass, I had one of the best experiences. I got a feel for where I was and over the year, I learned a new technique and meeting with coach Darren [DeAndrade], I fell in love with the sport."
From the experience that outdoor season, Jared began to lean toward the direction of track and field.
After Louf-Wood's sophomore football season ended, his relationship with the late coach DeAndrade began to blossom, with the two exchanging text messages to discuss how Jared could improve. They took to their commitment, meeting for private sessions two to three times a week on top of practice. He decided to focus on one sport.
"At first, we were trying to get a feel for each other. Come to find out we got along really, really well.
We would send each other videos of how I could get better, and it was almost like we were addicted to talking to each other. I ended up breaking the school record as a junior. Then I asked him "what is it going to take to be an All-American?" Jared said of his discussion with coach DeAndrade.
Jared had the opportunity to be an All-American later that year as the junior qualified for the 2017 NCAA Div. III Outdoor National Championship under the guidance of his coach. But devastating news of DeAndrade's passing rocked Louf-Woods and fellow-Corsair Stephen Tencati days prior to competition, as neither athlete was able to recover to finish within the top-eight spots.
But Jared was not only determined to continue to compete but was continuously growing in the shot put weight throw, and hammer throw. During the Indoor season this past winter, he did not miss a step as he collected four Little East Conference (LEC) Player of the Week nominations, the LEC Field Athlete of the Year award, and he was named the New England Region Field Athlete of the Year. All of these honors due to a season that saw him re-set his own records on numerous occasions while qualifying for his first trip to the NCAA Div. III Indoor National Championships.
At the national event in Birmingham, Ala., the senior accomplished the goal he originally suggested to DeAndrade, becoming UMass Dartmouth's 31 All-American for indoor or outdoor track and field. With a weight throw distance of 19.16m (62-10.5) easily bringing him the honor as he finished the season fourth in Div. III.
"It was awesome. I kind of knew early on in my event because I had broken the 19-meter mark, and there were only about four guys in my competition who have ever done that. Me being one of them. I knew I put myself in a good position going into the rest of the competition so at that point I just went after it and had fun. It was a good feeling because there was no pressure,
"I think it all started with coach Darren. After he passed, along with coach Ed being there with the weight and coach Shay with the shot put we really haven't missed a step. For us to carry that from the beginning of the season to the national championship was really cool, and for us to come away with some hardware is awesome. I never thought I'd be an All-American," Jared said sentimentally.
Even with unquestionable athletic success, the College Now program is where he got started, and in turn where the opportunities arose. But it was a combined effort of Jared's own determination and the guidance had on the way that has made him a role-model in the classroom, in athletics, and in the UMass Dartmouth community.
"I don't think I'd be as successful without the College Now program. Harnessing that pressure with academics and athletics definitely drove me. Here, you're not just another scholarship athlete but you're a person. It's not just going out and getting the stats, it's going out, making relationships, and having a good time, and if the stats come, the stats come," said Louf-Woods.