By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- Ask your average high school football player, past or present, to name their greatest individual moment on the field.
The answer is often obvious -- a touchdown-saving tackle maybe, possibly a pancake block or a crushing hit, perhaps a trip to the end zone. There's almost always that one play that stands above the others.
Then there's Troy Gordon. The Strasburg junior wide receiver needed just one varsity game last season to make that choice somewhat difficult. In his first varsity action in last year's season opener at Warren County, Gordon hauled in his first career touchdown reception on a 25-yard strike from Hunter Funk to score the Rams' first points of the season. Later, he hooked up with Funk again for a 34-yard touchdown catch.
Two touchdown receptions in your first game? Gordon could have put his cleats into permanent storage right after that and basked in the glory of that one night. Luckily for Strasburg, that didn't happen.
As for choosing that defining moment ... well, that's gotten a little tougher for Gordon in the 20 games since that opener against the Wildcats. He never did add another touchdown catch as a sophomore, but Gordon did break off an 85-yard touchdown return on a fumble recovery after he stripped a George Mason player of the ball.
"I just grabbed it out of his hands," Gordon said. "I took off and went untouched to the end zone. That's one of my favorite touchdowns."
One of, but just one. This season Gordon has piled on the possibilities for a personal highlight reel as he's helped Strasburg (8-3) reach the Group A playoffs for the first time since 2004. The latest came just last week in Strasburg's 34-27 first-round playoff win against Clarke County, when Gordon took the opening kickoff of the second half 91 yards for a touchdown to give the Rams the lead.
Gordon just added that score to a lengthy list this season, his ninth touchdown of the year.
Among his scores:
• A 53-yard fumble return for a touchdown in Strasburg's season-opening win over Stonewall Jackson;
• A 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Madison County, plus a 17-yard touchdown catch in Strasburg's 28-6 victory;
• An 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Rams' 34-14 rout of Luray;
• A 61-yard interception return for a touchdown, plus a 60-yard touchdown reception, in Strasburg's regular-season victory over Clarke County;
• A 71-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 41-yard punt return for another score in Strasburg's 56-28 win against George Mason.
"I need one rushing and I've got to throw a [touchdown] pass," Gordon says with a smile. "We had something set up ... I was going to try it, but it never happened."
There's still time, as the 11th-seeded Rams kept their season alive with the victory over Clarke County and next face No. 3 Amelia County (10-1) in Friday's second round of the Group A, Division 2 Eastern Section playoffs. Game time is 7 p.m. in Amelia.
Although the Rams certainly will continue to rely on its powerful ground game against the Raiders, Strasburg coach Mark Roller isn't shy about wanting to get the ball in Gordon's hands.
"No matter where he catches it, he has the potential to score a touchdown and usually it's a big play for us," Roller said. "He had one against Clarke and he'll probably tell you he had one against Madison in the second game that he dropped when he was wide open.
"He's certainly an all-around player. He can do a little bit of everything, and he's confident to do those things for us. It hasn't been surprising; we'd like to get a little more production out of him."
Aside from his special teams duties, Gordon ranks fourth on the team in receiving with six catches for 130 yards and a pair of touchdowns. As a defensive back, he has three interceptions plus that fumble recovery.
"He's been tremendous in all facets of the game," Roller said. "... He has just been johnny-on-the-spot, I guess you would say."
Nowhere, though, has Gordon been more dangerous than as a return specialist. If anything, Gordon's four returns are evidence of Strasburg's overall excellence this season on the kickoff-return team. Teammates Bradley Hough and Todd Dean have each scored a kickoff-return touchdown as well this season. Roller is quick to credit those hard-working blockers, but he's just as ready to credit his returners for making people miss in the open field.
"It's kind of fun," Gordon said of special teams. "I really didn't expect to have all those returns. The guys do a great job opening the holes. It's my job to find them and get through."
Standing 6-feet and weighing 170 pounds, Gordon isn't physically imposing or particularly small. He has some speed, but he's not a burner. To Roller, Gordon's big-play penchant has much more to do with intelligence than athleticism.
"He's got a little bit of speed, but I think also think he understands the game," Roller said. "He knows where to be, and sometimes that gets him in trouble because he anticipates too much.
"But overall I think he kind of knows where to go and where to be. I think that's what sets him apart."