By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- When Zach Moon looks around the football field at his Warren County teammates this season, things will look a little bit different.
During his first two varsity seasons, Moon, a linebacker in the middle of the Wildcats' defense, was surrounded at his position by plenty of senior leadership in guys like Jeff Budwash in 2012 and Kristian Deal last season. A quick glance around the field during the first day of practice drove home the fact that Moon is now at the center of everything Warren County wants to do on defense.
"It's definitely weird because I was the younger kid for most of the time. Since I'm a senior now, I guess it just really means being the guy in the inside of the huddle just breaking it down and just leading by action and making sure everybody's doing what they need to do," Moon said. "I just need to try to fill the other people's roles as good as possible."
Last season, Moon went quietly about his role as a middle linebacker in Warren County's 4-4 defense -- with so many seniors around him on defense, he felt minimal pressure to come up with the one big play that could change a football game. Still, Moon thrived on defense, as he finished second on the team with 82 total tackles (62 solo).
And when the opportunity did arise to make that impact play late last season, Moon seized it.
That moment came in the first round of the Region 3A East playoffs against Park View-South Hill, as Moon intercepted a pass -- his first career interception -- late in the fourth quarter to help seal Warren County's 35-23 win.
Moon, one of the few returning players on either side of the ball with varsity experience for Warren County, expects to feel the pressure to make those kinds of plays on a regular basis for the Wildcats this season. But that might not be such a bad thing.
"Honestly, I feel like it will make me play better if there is more pressure," Moon said.
That would be good news for new Warren County head coach Steve Crist, who will expect a strong amount of leadership -- both on and off the field -- from Moon and the rest of the senior class to help cope with the Wildcats' youth and inexperience.
"He's a senior, he's been in the program for a long time. We're going to look to him and people like him for leadership, and so far they're embracing that challenge, too," Crist said. "Everybody likes to lead and I think our guys are doing a good job at this point."
Moon's been playing the sport long enough to understand the ins and outs of the game -- he started playing football at 8 years old -- and he's developed that sense of comfort in his role at linebacker that you'd come to expect from a player about to begin his third season at the varsity level.
"When you first come up it's so much faster, but as you get older you just get more used to it and it starts to slow down for you and everything's easier," Moon said. "You start to get more confidence in yourself as you get older, that just comes naturally. You just become more of a leader."
Moon said he's worked with the offensive line some in his varsity career, although he hasn't been higher than the second-team unit on the offensive depth chart. He figures to serve in that same capacity again this season, and Crist said Moon could be in the mix for playing time on offense if doing so would make the team better.
Moon said he enjoys being able to focus solely on defense, but he is open to helping the team in any way possible. It's been that sense of camaraderie that has kept Moon attached to the sport.
"It's a fun sport to play, it's definitely intense, but the thing is it's like the brotherhood you have with your teammates because you see them every day," Moon said. "You just get really close to them. You go to battle for them."
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD