Cincinnati, Ohio. – Coming from a family of athletes, University of Cincinnati’s Justin Wodtly has always faced pressure of becoming a star. Three of Wodtly’s uncles played in the NFL – one of which being Pittsburgh Steelers’ Hall-of-Famer and Wodtly’s uncle-in-law Troy Polamalu – not to mention his father and grandfather both competed at the collegiate level.
And yet, Wodtly has refused to let high expectations anchor his passion for the game. Introduced to tackle football at six years old, Wodtly quickly developed his own personal love for the high-energy sport.
In fact, Wodtly even played under his father in high school. His father was the defensive coordinator, and Wodtly was a standout defensive lineman for the team.
Wodtly acknowledged the difficulty of playing under his father, but felt that his high school experience was exceptional in preparing him to play at the next level.
“A lot of people think you would get those extra opportunities with your father as a coach, but I didn’t let that affect my play. That coaching staff prepared me well as a player, but also as a man outside of football,” Wodtly said.
Wodtly joined the Cincinnati Bearcats team in 2020 and immediately recognized the winning culture around him. In his first year with the program, the Bearcats finished 9-1, including a 6-0 record in conference play. Their lone loss came in the Peach Bowl, losing to Georgia.
The next year was even better. Cincinnati breezed through the American Conference, finishing 13-0 and facing a matchup in the Cotton Bowl against Alabama. The Bearcats lost that matchup, but Wodtly felt the program was turning into a true “winning program”.
“Until then, [Cincinnati] had always been known as a basketball school. But now, Coach Fickell was turning the program around,” Wodtly said.
In just two seasons, Justin watched the Cincinnati program evolve into a collegiate football powerhouse. With that unwavering success, Wodtly emphasized this being the “year of the new”, including a new program sponsor, Under Armour, a new strength coach, and a new trust for a budding head coach.
This offseason, Wodtly is back in hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, preparing for his first-ever youth event, the All Ohio Youth Football Camp. The name “All Ohio” comes from the variety of volunteers and athletes prepared to attend, who hail from across the entire state of Ohio.
The camp, a product of his aspirations to support underrepresented youths, is expected to host over 150 kids.
Wodtly expressed that the recreational centers have slowly begun to offer less and less football activities. He expressed that as a kid, youth football camps were what he always dreamed of attending.
He said, “Growing up in the inner city, I only had the options that the recreational centers would offer. When they would have those Colt McCoy and Trent Richardson youth camps, our centers would give us the chance to be in those and I loved it.”
Among Justin’s support system for the event is his sister, who works for a popular radio station in Cleveland. Wodtly is even aiming to bring on a DJ to play at the camp.
But above all, Wodtly is grateful for his family, who provide endless support, and his football experience, which has allowed him to make his youth camp possible. He hopes to teach hometown kids a valuable lesson that their dreams are within reach .
He said, “You don’t have to seek out anyone else; you can make it from right here, right in your own backyard.”
Wodtly’s first-ever football camp is sure to be just the beginning of his efforts to connect with members of his birthplace. As someone who hopes to be around football for a long time, Wodtly has continued to grow as a star on and off the field.