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May 25, 2009

Multi-sport star Woodyard entrenched at corner

Marquis Woodyard controlled his breathing while rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, a bundle of potential energy at the starting line. The sprinter from Thomas Johnson was about to run the 110-meter hurdles in the 4A State Championship at Morgan State University on May 24. In a matter of seconds, the starting gun would boom, and Woodyard would try and defend his claim to the fastest 110 hurdler in Maryland (14.1 seconds).

Woodyard burst off the line, his legs whirring like a bicycle's spokes. When he reached the hurdles, he sprung forward and raised his legs like a gymnast performing a mid-air split. Once, twice, three times -- he cleared all the hurdles with nary a knick. Woodyard ended up running 0.8 seconds slower than his best time, but it was still good enough for a victory.

But Woodyard wasn't finished. Later in the meet, he competed in the 300 hurdles and won with a 38.69 despite stumbling at the finish. Then he ran anchor in the 1,600 relay and helped Thomas Johnson to a third-place finish.

At the end of the meet, Woodyard was a champion; so was Thomas Johnson.

"Track is something that has kept me in shape in the offseason," said Woodyard, who is perhaps better known for his gridiron exploits. "But I've excelled in it. It's good that colleges see that I can run track and play football."

Woodyard admits that he loves track, but football is his ticket to college. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound cornerback is a potential Division I recruit with schools like Wisconsin and Illinois looking at him this spring.

"If I get the opportunity to run in college I wouldn't mind," Woodyard said. "But football is my first priority."

Woodyard's track training directly correlates to his football regimen. He spends time in the weight room strengthening his legs, and he runs (obviously) to improve his speed. But track hasn't always helped Woodyard on the field.

Ironically, Woodyard's track times haven't exactly resulted in 4.3 40-yard dashes. He admits he's better over longer distances than in the short bursts needed on the football field. In fact, his mid-4.5 40 time may be one of the reasons he hasn't receiver a scholarship offer yet.

"I'm fast, but I'm not as quick as I should be," Woodyard said. "I need to work on that."

In addition, Woodyard still needs to add a few pounds. His "track body" is long, lean and slightly more fragile than his sturdier, stronger "football body."

"He can get a little bigger and stronger, but that's tough to do with running track," Thomas Johnson's football coach Ben Wright said. "I think he'll need to gain another 10 to15 pounds."

Regardless, Woodyard still established himself as one of the top defensive backs in the Monocacy Valley Athletic Conference last season. His five interceptions were tied for the most in the county and the conference. He led the Thomas Johnson secondary with 54 tackles.

At the end of the season, he earned Second Team All-Frederick News Post and Honorable Mention Frederick County Gazette honors. Just a few weeks ago he won the Defensive Back MVP at the Schuman's Underclassmen Combine.

"He's a hard worker, he enjoys playing and he's pretty strong mentally," Wright said.

Indeed, Woodyard's football IQ is what separates him from other defensive backs. Ever since his sophomore year, Woodyard, who played both safety and cornerback last year, has been calling out the Patriots' secondary signals.

Last year against Frederick, he saw their quarterback eyeing up his receiver near the goal line. Woodyard waited, then released as soon as the throw came out. He picked off the pass then used his long-distance speed to take it back 98 yards for a touchdown, the longest in league history.

"That solidified the win for us," Wright said. "He has good anticipation."

Woodyard spends ample time breaking down film, and not just of Patriots games and upcoming opponents. He'll study the best wide receivers to see how they beat cornerbacks. Then he'll watch the cornerbacks and analyze what they did wrong. Woodyard even has tape of college corners like Vontae Davis and Malcolm Jenkins to see how they play receivers.

"I'm looking for moves and techniques that I can incorporate," Woodyard said.

For example, one corner had a quick first step, which allowed him to stay with receivers on deep routes. Woodyard focused on the corner's feet and tried to mimic the moves in practice.

"I've been focusing on footwork," Woodyard said. "That's a big part of my game."

Wright agreed, noting that Woodyard's technique makes him a solid one-on-one cover corner.

"He's got a really good backpedal and really good hips," Wright said.

Woodyard's cover skills combined with his instincts make him an intriguing prospect. But he's yet to receive the same interest as some of Maryland's elite cornerbacks. His size and speed play some role, but perhaps the main reason is that he played mainly safety until splitting time at corner last year.

"I was out of position; I was an undersized safety," Woodyard said. "But now I'm a good-sized cornerback. Once I show that I could be a good corner instead of just a safety, the offers will start coming in."

Currently, James Madison, New Hampshire, William and Mary, Temple, Central Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin have all shown varying degrees of interest. Woodyard said the New Hampshire recruiter was especially intrigued and insisted he come to their camp.

Of course, he'd like to entice the latter two Division I schools: Wisconsin and Illinois.

"The one that stands out the most is Wisconsin because they are a very good Division I school," Woodyard said. "But I just want my first offer."

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