Woodland shifts from track to football, works for spot in secondary
Running toward the right sideline, Brian McCain was open.
The Southern fullback reached up for a pass that would convert a third-and-2, and just as he began bobbling it, a white blur flew in from behind and delivered a blow much heavier than the 168-pound defensive back from whence it came.
McCain and the ball both hit the ground, separately.
A few plays later, quarterback Dray Joseph threw again, this time to his left and off target. Cornerback D’Andre Woodland was there once more, and his diving interception set off a raucous celebration among the Jaguars’ defensive players.
Those two plays — the highlights of Southern’s third-down drill Monday — showed a side of Woodland that hadn’t been seen much during preseason camp.
Everyone knew about the speed that landed Woodland a spot on the SU track and field team, and after doing extra summer workouts to keep up with the football team, he obviously had the desire, too.
But might Woodland turn out to be a playmaker?
That’s certainly his goal. The former Belaire High standout — a first-team All-District 6-4A wide receiver who also played defensive back — first tried to join the Southern football team in 2010, but was academically ineligible.
Last year, he did get to suit up in A.W. Mumford Stadium, but for the track and field squad.
He ran the 60-meter dash once during the indoor season, then placed second in the triple jump and third in the long jump at the Southwestern Athletic Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships in May.
Despite the success, Woodland said his track-and-field career was just to prepare him for the gridiron.
“I really wanted to play football. That’s my first passion,” he said.
That’s why he took on a massive workload this summer. In addition to workouts for track, Woodland paid extra visits to strength and conditioning coach Corliss Fingers, who gave him the offseason training program that the football players were going through.
Woodland said he did every single one — a necessary step to prove his worth to SU football coach Stump Mitchell. His power clean went up from 205 pounds to 245, and he saw 30-pound leaps in both his bench press (to 260) and squat (to 390).
“I knew I had to compete to come out here,” Woodland said. “They think of me as a track guy, but I played football first.”
Initially, Woodland said Mitchell wasn’t sold on him joining the Jaguars. But after getting in tip-top shape and picking up a recommendation from quarterbacks coach Chad Germany — who coached against Woodland while at Capitol High — Woodland finally got the go-ahead and slipped on that white, No. 5 jersey for fall training camp.
The next task is technique.
“I’ve always seen him use his track speed, and that’s a problem. If you’re using your track speed, nine times out of 10, you’ve gotten burned,” Mitchell said. “We’re not interested in seeing him run behind somebody all day long when he can use his hands to prevent them getting past him and knowing when to turn and run.
“We need to see his football skills as opposed to a lot of his track speed.”
That was the exact issue in Saturday’s scrimmage, when receiver Lee Doss got past Woodland and snagged a pass over his shoulder for a 40-yard gain.
He’s quick to call that the low point of his training camp.
“I had bad technique,” Woodland said. “I let him get inside me, and I was running with him, but the ball took him away from me and he got the pass. I think if I had gotten up there quicker and gotten my hands on him (at the line of scrimmage), it would have been a broken-up play.”
But none of this is to say Woodland’s speed is a negative. Defensive backs coach Manny Martin said he has been impressed with the newcomer so far, and even though he needs work, the raw abilities are there.
As cornerback Virgil Williams said, the benefits of Woodland’s quickness are “self-explanatory,” and once the technique is solidified, Williams expects to have a reliable helper in the secondary.
“He’ll be a great corner or nickel, wherever you put him,” Williams said. “He never quits on the play. He listens to whatever coaches say. It’s always ‘Yes sir,’ never any negative talking back to the coaches or anything.”
The never-quit attitude was evident on Doss’ catch in the scrimmage, when Woodland’s determination and track speed were the only things that kept Doss out of the end zone.
He learned from that play — and he’s quick to point out other catches that Doss and Charles Hawkins made against him — but Woodland is more focused on reproducing the moments he provided Monday.
Such as that interception, which was his first of camp.
“I’ve been waiting on that one to showcase my talent, so I guess it’s showing now,” he said.