DETROIT (AP) -Damien Woody has had quite a year.
The Detroit Lion went to the Duke Weight Loss Center; slashed $2.5 million from his salary; almost got cut; lost his job at right guard and was a healthy scratch for the first time in his nine-year career; played tackle for the first time since high school.
Meanwhile, his former team went into this weekend with a shot to be the NFL's first 16-0 team.
``I look back on everything that has happened and it has really helped me as a man,'' Woody said.
It all started in Durham, N.C., where Woody was joined by his wife, Nicole, and their three daughters for a six-week stay that cost about $12,000.
He said it was worth every penny.
``It changed my life,'' the 6-foot-3, 340-pound Woody said. ``It was an eye-opening experience about eating habits that finally gave me the tools to deal with something I've been struggling with my whole career.
``I lost 40-some pounds and that was the first step in the whole process for me this year.''
Then, he had to cut some more.
The Lions signed him to a $31 million, six-year contract with a $9 million signing bonus in 2004 after he spent his first five seasons with New England, starting almost every game and being a part of two Super Bowl-winning teams.
Woody and his agent, Ben Dogra, agreed to give up $2.5 million in salary this season - more than half of what he was due to make - in exchange for voiding the last two years of his deal.
If he didn't restructure his deal, the Lions likely would've released him.
``That's not what came out of their mouth, but that's the reality of the NFL,'' Woody said.
The Lions still considered cutting him before the season, despite the salary cap saving move he signed.
Woody started the first three games at right guard before being benched.
``It was a surprise because there was no indication that showed me it was going to happen,'' he said. ``I was devastated.''
But unlike many pro athletes that get demoted, Woody kept his mouth shut, worked hard and hoped good things would happen.
After three games on the inactive list, he slowly worked his way onto the field as a reserve.
Starting right tackle George Foster fell out of favor with the coaches and Jonathan Scott was injured, leading to Woody playing the position for the first time since he was at Patrick Henry High School in Virginia.
Woody not only became a starter, but an effective one.
When Detroit (6-8) hosts the Kansas City Chiefs (4-10) on Sunday in its home finale, Woody will be in the lineup for the fourth straight game.
``He had an opportunity to resurrect his career and he came back with that mind-set and he's done a good job,'' Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said. ``Sometimes with offensive linemen, they really go unnoticed.''
Woody has certainly been noticed by coaches and teammates, earning rave reviews for the way he has salvaged something out of what has been a disappointing season for a team that might be the first in NFL history to win six of its first eight games and finish 6-10.
``I can't tell you how impressive he's been really,'' Detroit coach Rod Marinelli said. ``It's been remarkable. The protections have improved dramatically with him at right tackle.''
Quarterback Jon Kitna is thankful for that.
``He's played great,'' Kitna said. ``I don't want to say it's surprising because he's a talented player, but it's phenomenal really to go from guard to tackle and to never had played it before in this league.''
Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz hopes the team re-signs Woody, but he is keeping all options open after risking some security in exchange for being a free agent.
Woody likely will be an attractive player on the market because of his experience at all three positions, starting as a center coming out of Boston College and later becoming a guard and lately a tackle.
``It was like betting on ourselves, basically,'' he said of the decision to void the final two years of his deal. ``When everything was shaky and I was inactive, it was like, 'Oh man, this is crazy.' But as things came around, it looks like it was a good gamble that paid off.''
Woody insisted he feels the same way about leaving New England for the lucrative offer the lowly Lions gave him as a free agent.
But, he acknowledged thinking 'What if?' as the Patriots chase perfection and another Super Bowl title.
``I wouldn't be a real man if I didn't say that,'' he said. ``But I don't regret the decision I made. Being here these four years has really helped me as a man on a personal level.
``It's easy to go through things when everything is great. In New England, we won so much everything was good. But the hard times, it shows your mettle and your character.''

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