H.D. Woodson senior corner back D’Andre Payne (left), who is committed to Tennessee, will lead a talented Warriors defense this fall. (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

H.D. Woodson’s football team was still on its field practicing at 8:30 Friday night, with a menacing cloud hanging overhead. A trainer watched the sky while the boys played, wondering what would end the practice first: a lack of light or lightning.

The latter struck first, and the team was ordered to quickly take shelter in a nearby locker room. But in all reality, the Warriors could’ve practiced all night, in the rain. After a disappointing exit in last year’s DCIAA semifinals against Dunbar, Woodson is hungry to return to the Turkey Bowl and is eyeing a run to the DCSAA title game in December.

The pieces are certainly in place. The Warriors, who have a rich tradition in producing high-level recruits on the defensive side of the ball in particular, should have one of the best defenses in the city this fall.

The team’s top player, Tennessee corner back recruit D’Andre Payne, is back with the program after briefly transferring to Friendship Collegiate Academy earlier this year. A first team All-Met for the Warriors a year ago, Payne scored touchdowns in all three phases of the game a year ago, including four touchdowns on punt and interception returns (he recorded four picks on the year).

“It feels good to be back. You know I’m not taking anything from Friendship, that’s a good program over there, but my heart was at Woodson,” Payne said. “Woodson, they’ve always had a good defense.”

He’ll be joined in the defensive backfield by highly-touted junior corner DuWayne Johnson, and the linebacker corps will be anchored by 5-foot-10, 215-pound Deonte Jackson, who is receiving college interest from the likes of Old Dominion, Temple, Toledo and Florida Atlantic.

“[We’re] ready to hit, ready to come up and make plays. And we just want to prove to our team that we can keep the H.D. Woodson defensive legacy going,” Jackson said. “I see alumni all the time, like around my neighborhood and stuff. They see me, and they’re like, ‘Y’all gotta win this Turkey Bowl this year.'”

The Warriors finished 4-6 last year, but much of that was attributed to a brutal non-conference schedule to begin the season. Woodson lost its first four games of the year to Martinsburg (W. Va), St. Edward (Ohio), WCAC power Good Counsel and Glens Mill (Pa.), all on the road. But coach Steve Scott’s team is not shying away from a similar slate this fall – traveling to meet Martinsburg, St. Edward and Glens Mills within the first four weeks of the season. Like last fall, those tests should have the Warriors ready to tackle their DCIAA schedule. Woodson finished 4-0 in league games last season.

The offense is still a work in progress, but junior quarterback Rashad Cooper – who showed flashes in limited time as a backup last season – is projected to be dangerous because of his mobility. Even Payne said he could get in on the action if it will help his team win – and he is aware of the expectations he must live up to after showing brilliance with the ball in his hands as a junior.

“Actually I might play some running back this year. I might get some carries here and there,” Payne said. “Hopefully people kick it to me. A lot people, they keep it away from me. I’m hoping I live up to those numbers I had last year.”

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