Kicker uplifts: Star Cavalier helps local fan

As the place kicker for UVA's football team, Connor Hughes is used to saving games. But one local fan says Hughes helped save his life.

Forced to have his foot amputated after a workplace injury in 2000, 34-year-old Tom Woodson had spent several years adjusting to his prosthetic. Though it was uncomfortable at times– particularly when he had to wait for a shuttle to take him to UVA football games as detailed in a Hook article ["Access denied: Stadium parking irks handicapped fan," News, September 16, 2004]– he'd adjusted to life with a disability. But on June 25, disaster struck again. Woodson and his wife, Angie, were leaving Smith Mountain Lake near Roanoke when he lost control of their car.

Though Angie incurred only minor injuries in the collision, Woodson suffered lung damage and broke his pelvis and numerous ribs. The devoted Cavalier fan spent three months in UVA intensive care many of them on a ventilator.

But things started looking up when Hughes paid a visit.

"When I first met Tom, he was in critical condition and could hardly move his head over to greet me," says Hughes, who was introduced to Woodson in early August by a mutual friend. "My being there, though, brought a smile to his face," he recalls.

Since that time, Hughes has visited Woodson at the hospital once a week, or he calls from the road. First topic of conversation: UVA football.

"I'll go in there, and articles about me will be posted all over the walls," says the Williamsburg native who was named a semifinalist for the 2005 Draddy Trophy award, known as the "Academic Heisman." "He'll joke with me about last week's game, and we'll talk about the future."

A fourth-year religious studies major and sociology minor with a 3.1 GPA, Hughes is also a leading candidate for the 2005 Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's best place kicker.

"If I had a son, I would want Connor to be his role model," says Woodson, who was transferred from the hospital to rehab in September and credits his progress to Hughes. "I owe him so much."

The admiration is mutual.

Hughes started wearing an armband with Woodson's initials at the Maryland game because he couldn't visit that week and was unable to reach him by phone. In the Cavalier upset over Florida State, Hughes wore it again and went 4/4 in field goals.

"I'll continue to wear it until he's fully recovered," Hughes says.

Woodson, who runs parking garages throughout Charlottesville, says his recovery is in the "final stages." He hopes to attend the Virginia Tech game on November 19.

Hughes can't wait to see Woodson cheering in the stands.

"He's a blessing to hang out with," says Hughes, "and a huge encouragement for me and my playing."

Tom Woodson and Connor Hughes