Former NFL running back Danny Woodhead brought a message of perseverance and leadership to the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting.

“The thing I learned more than anything, is you have to be willing to serve and love people as a leader,” Woodhead told the crowd of more than 450 people Thursday night at the Mid-America Center. “Where you put others before yourself, you set an example. If you can show love for people, they are more apt to work hard for you.”

Woodhead played nine seasons in the NFL, including three years with the New England Patriots. Discussing legendary coach Bill Belichick’s leadership and commitment to every person in the organization, he said, “Every single person that works in that building in New England is held to a certain standard” from office staff all the way up.

“And then they get all get Super Bowl rings,” Woodhead said.

Woodhead was the keynote speaker at the event, which for the second year was hosted in the evening — after years of chamber luncheons for the meeting — with a football theme.

Woodhead was a high school star in North Platte, Nebraska, but as a 5-foot-8 running back wasn’t recruited by major college programs. He went to Division II Chadron State and had a legendary career, where he rushed for 7,441 yards over four years and scored in 37-consecutive games on the way to twice winning the Harlon Hill trophy, the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

“I’m thinking the NFL is the next thing,” he said. “I should’ve known the story, a five-eight running back from Chadron State, I wasn’t getting drafted.”

Woodhead wasn’t drafted, but signed with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent and, after overcoming a major knee injury, made the team and spent two years in New York before moving on to the Patriots, where he played in the a Super Bowl — and scored a touch down in the game — during the 2011 season.

“I loved playing, the game was amazing,” Woodhead told the crowd. “But the people that were around me, that was my favorite part of it.”

Along with serving and loving those you lead, Woodhead discussed another four key aspects of leadership:

“Work your tail off,” he said. “Belichick was one of the best leaders I’ve ever seen. He was in there every day — almost to an unhealthy point. I could follow him. Without a shadow of a doubt, he was prepared and his team is prepared.”

Woodhead also discussed the importance of building trust and communicating, mentioning that days after he moved to San Diego to player for the Chargers, the team’s quarterback, Philip Rivers, stopped by his house to meet Woodhead and his family.

“One of the best leaders I ever played with. He came to meet me, meet my wife. It showed he cared more about me the person than he cared about running Danny Woodhead. I said ‘I can go into a game with this dude.’”

Lastly, he said, have standards for accountability be consistent.

“Things are going to go bad, it’s how you bounce back from it,” he said. “If you’re the same person every day, that’s the type of person I want to follow. A person that’s consistent every day, and knows how to bounce back.”

During the event, the chamber handed out awards for commitment to the community. Boxer Barbeque won the chamber Beautification Award for its move to a newly-renovated location in the Haymarket area on Main Street.

Rick Guill was named as CB Ambassador of the Year, while Nicole Lindquist was named Impact CB Young Professional of the Year. John Dresher was honored as the top salesman for the chamber’s total resource fundraising campaign.

Jennifer McCord was honored as the CB Ambassador past chair, Don Kohler was honored as the past board chair for the chamber and Chad Hannan, Denise McNitt and Terry Smith were honored as outgoing members of the chamber board.

New board members are Jamie Cox, Scott Hartman and Jessica Vanderpool.

During his remarks, current chamber board chair Judd Knispel listed five key focus areas for the chamber for the future: hiring a new CEO, strengthening strategic partnerships, growing and engaging membership, elevating the chamber and Council Bluffs area’s image and developing the chamber’s workforce initiative.

“We have already begun efforts in these areas,” Knispel said. “We have established working committees in each of these areas to address challenges and move forward with the chamber’s vision.”

New this year, the chamber hosted its business showcase at the meeting, where area companies were able to set up booths and tell attendees about their work.

After the event, interim chamber President and CEO Tom Hanafan said it was the biggest crowd for an annual meeting he knew of after going through previous years records.

“Tonight was great,” Hanafan said, thanking the award recipients for their work. “They’ve made a big difference with the chamber.”

Looking forward to the future, he said the chamber is looking at how businesses can make a difference in the community.

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