H.D. Woodson senior wide receiver and Maryland commit Parnell Motley discusses how he improves his skills in the offseason. (Dalton Okolo for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

The grunts coming from H.D. Woodson rising senior Parnell Motley pierced through the humid summer air late last month at the conclusion of another two-hour practice session in Northeast Washington.

The wide receiver and sophomore quarterback Khalil Wright were methodically going through Motley’s route tree alone after almost every other player and coach had left the field. First came a curl pattern. Then a dig route, an out and a slant. But the blossoming duo couldn’t seem to connect on the post corner. They would keep going through this particular route, Wright said between reps, until Motley catches the ball.

A few minutes later, once Motley deemed their work to be done and all eight routes had been completed, he revealed the motivation behind this meticulous behavior is about far more than developing chemistry with a new signal caller.

“I really think about my brother every time I’m doing routes,” Motley said.

Motley, a rising senior who committed to play defensive back at Maryland last month, is working harder than ever entering his final high school football season. He is a captain for the two-time defending Turkey Bowl champions, setting the tone for the rest of his team every afternoon during grueling offseason workouts in the summer heat.

But unlike many of the Division-I bound Washington area football players embracing the developmental part of the game, Motley’s dedication is born from tragedy. About a year ago, his older brother, Dexter, was killed in a drive-by shooting about a mile away from Woodson’s campus.

The school’s turf football field is now part of Parnell Motley’s grieving process.

“Every day I just think about him and … I’ve got to work harder,” he said. “Everything I do is because of him. I think that’s how I get better.”

H.D. Woodson’s Parnell Motley, right, recently committed to Maryland, but hasn’t slowed down during grueling offseason workouts. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Motley’s afternoons begin in the cramped weight room within Woodson’s ground floor. Donald Curtis, who runs the team’s offseason strength and conditioning program, designs daily workouts based on what he sees on the field. He focuses on muscles and skillsets in which the Warriors are lacking.

On this day, that meant working on “explosion.” Motley went through a variety of squats along with his lifting partner, junior cornerback/wide receiver Charles Peeler. The two moved onto dumbbell work and pushups, including several sets with resistance bands. Then came oblique exercises, with Motley and Peeler tossing a 10-pound medicine ball back and forth while rotating their abdominal muscles.


Motley added in extra sets even though most of his teammates had already finished in the weight room. Sweat poured down the back of his Maryland practice shirt.

“He’s got a specific kind of drive,” Curtis said. “He knows he’s going to have to live in here at the next level.”

The 6-foot-1 Motley, who also played on H.D. Woodson’s boys’ basketball team during the winter, still weighs just 170 pounds. Though the combination of his long frame and speed make him one of the top athletes in the DCIAA, he will likely need to add at least 20 or 30 pounds over the coming years if he hopes to become an impact player in College Park.

Nonetheless, his progress since joining H.D. Woodson’s varsity football team is encouraging.

“About two years ago,” Motley said, “I was really bone.”

Added H.D. Woodson football Coach Greg Fuller: “He’s been wanting to get better so his work ethic has improved a lot. His sophomore year, he wasn’t really that much of a heavy guy, or weightlifting guy, until he really found out his ability. … He has a scholarship going to a big university, so hopefully that will become infectious with the other players seeing him working hard pushing himself and trying to become better at his craft playing football.

Motley led about 20 players outside onto the field when the weightlifting session was complete. Because DCIAA rules mandate that H.D. Woodson cannot use actual footballs until practice officially begins next week, coaches took players through conditioning and footwork drills with tennis balls for more than an hour. Motley focused on his pursuit as a defensive back, the position Maryland envisions him playing initially in college.

His day wasn’t done until Wright found him in the end zone for one last deep route, the memories of a lost loved one flooding back into his mind.

“You’ve got to really grind,” Motley said. “I’ve worked hard every day, just thinking about my brother and chasing my dream.”

Previous installments of Summer Workouts

St. John’s basketball’s Anthony Cowan Jr. aims for the head of his class

Clarksburg’s Alexus Pyles uses props, pain to master craft on the track

Glenelg field hockey’s Noelle Frost invites competition to sharpen skills

For Oakton shortstop Joe Rizzo, it’s all about the routine