By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- Randolph-Macon Academy starting quarterback Ryan Pile took one for the team last year, although the recent graduate couldn't have known it at the time.
Pile was the victim of a bug bite on his arm midway through R-MA's season, an incident that set off a fortunate chain of events for the Yellow Jackets' offense. Pile's bite became infected, and by the fifth game of the season R-MA coach Frank Sullivan needed a starting quarterback for his team's home game against Quantico. Starting fullback Kevin Slaton moved over to the quarterback spot, and erstwhile special teams player Jonathan Moore plugged the resulting gap at fullback.
That turned out pretty well ... on Moore's first carry of the game, he rumbled 55 yards for a touchdown.
"We were worried," Sullivan said. "We had it scripted, where on the third play we were going to give it to him on a trap. Next thing you know, 55 yards later, he's in the end zone. We're all looking at each other and said, 'Oh, they must just not have seen him,' because he's so short, you know what I mean?
"Then come to find out, he ended up having quite a few 100-yard games, made us look like great coaches. I don't know why he didn't play the first two weeks."
Moore, a rising senior from Glenn Dale, Md., finished that game against Quantico with 200 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. For the season, he piled up 517 yards on 76 carries with eight touchdowns.
Rest assured, Moore will be in the starting lineup at fullback when the Yellow Jackets open at home against Brunswick Academy.
Moore was just as surprised as R-MA's coaching staff by his dazzling debut.
"It was definitely a surprise," Moore said. "It was almost a humbling experience, going from that special teams player to that offense and defense person that people almost depend on. Now it's my senior year -- me, Kevin [Slaton], all of the seniors have to step it up a level and be the people that you can depend on."
Moore has been a fixture at R-MA, having played football at the military academy since the seventh grade. He has that in common with Slaton, as well, plus a few others on the squad. That kind of familiarity makes Moore confident that the Yellow Jackets are headed for a strong season.
"We're all starting now," Moore said. "We know how we play, we know how we work and we work to just be better every day."
Sullivan, entering his seventh year as R-MA's head coach, has watched that growth first-hand.
"It's amazing when you come in and you remember them when they were little kids," Sullivan said. "Kevin Slaton's the same way. Now they're the ones waking kids up at 5:30 in the morning for you, getting them ready to practice. It sort of makes you feel old, to tell you the truth, but they're doing a great job. It's easy now. They know the system. They've been here for years. They know what we want, they know what we expect. They're good to have around."
Moore said playing fullback for R-MA isn't the traditional full-time blocking duties often assigned to the position, a statement backed up by his production last year. An honorable mention all-Patriot Conference selection as a running back last year, Moore is expecting to carry an even heavier load this year as the team breaks in a new starting quarterback.
"I always look forward to getting the ball," Moore said. "We've got two great new quarterbacks and they're passing very well. So we hopefully will pass a little more, but yeah, we're still predominantly run."
Moore is also expected to hold down a full-time starting position on defense, just like last season. A year ago, Moore was R-MA's top run-stopper as he amassed a team-high 50 tackles as an inside linebacker to go along with three interceptions and a pair of sacks. This season, Moore is shifting to an outside linebacker spot as the Yellow Jackets shift from a base 4-3 defense to a linebacker-heavy 4-4 look.
"He's doing a good job," Sullivan said. "He does so much for us as a leader and setting the defense up. The coaches are a little wary of taking him out of the middle because he does a lot of our checks and defensive audibles, but we'll be fine."
Moore, who earned first-team all-conference honors as a linebacker last season, said he's settling into his new duties on the defensive side.
"I'm getting used to it," Moore said. "It's a lot more space than inside linebacker, but I'm adjusting well and I look forward to playing outside."
Moore's season highlight last year didn't come against Quantico. Instead, he took the greatest satisfaction in R-MA's wild 48-34 homecoming victory over Patriot Conference rival Massanutten Military Academy. The Yellow Jackets trailed 20-7 at one point in the first half against the pass-happy Colonels, but Moore and fellow running backs Slaton and Andre Lake helped grind out the victory by combining for 501 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Moore had 165 yards on 23 carries, plus two touchdowns.
"It was nice being in a conference," Moore said. "You know, you belong somewhere and you have your conference games and you get hyped for the games. Every conference game, I know I would get a lot more excited for, especially our homecoming game against Massanutten. That was an exciting game."
Moore follows Sullivan's coaching mantra to try and "improve one percent, every day." And as a senior, that's an attitude Moore is also helping to instill in his younger teammates.
"He's intense, he's intelligent, he is focused, he is always wanting to learn something and he's a great teammate. He's not a screamer and a hollerer. He'll get kids to get in line and do the right thing. He knows which buttons to push for everybody."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>