St. Clair emerges as dynamic talent

By Brad Fauber

STRASBURG — It would be easy for individual performances to get lost in a football game that was ultimately won on a goal-line stand in the final seconds.

But the effort that Strasburg senior Noah St. Clair put forth last Friday night against visiting Warren County was one that couldn’t be so easily overlooked.

St. Clair, a first-year varsity football player, had arguably the greatest game of his brief career in Strasburg’s 36-28 win. The 5-foot-11, 155-pound senior returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, hauled in a touchdown reception, notched an interception on defense and even caught a pair of two-point conversion passes in the victory.

The performance continued what has been a steady emergence by St. Clair over the second half of the season.

“He’s come on of late,” Rams head coach Mark Roller said of St. Clair, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Male Athlete of the Week for Oct. 26-Nov. 1, after practice Tuesday morning. “We’re starting to get him the ball a little bit more. We knew he could do some things for us and he’s starting to prove that.”

St. Clair quickly got involved in the Rams’ passing attack last Friday, as his 16-yard touchdown catch via senior quarterback Mark Smoot helped Strasburg answer a Warren County touchdown late in the first quarter. St. Clair, who has become one of Smoot’s primary passing targets alongside fellow first-year player Trevin Howard and veteran tight end Ryan Smoot, finished the game with four catches for 66 yards.

St. Clair didn’t begin the season as one of Mark Smoot’s go-to receivers, however. St. Clair admitted it took about four or five games for him to really nail down the concept of route running and develop a good chemistry with his quarterback.

Roller said Mark Smoot’s confidence in some of his inexperienced receivers — St. Clair included — really began developing in a 30-25 win over George Mason on Oct. 10.

“I think it was one of those things with Mark, he wasn’t quite sure at the time,” Roller said. “In practice he would throw the ball to [St. Clair] but when he got to that George Mason … I said ‘you’ve got to trust those other guys,’ because so many people were double-teaming Ryan. That opened those other two guys up, so it worked out.”

St. Clair, who plays as a defensive back for Strasburg’s defense, snagged an interception to set up Strasburg’s second touchdown of the game, which gave the Rams a 12-7 lead with 8:55 left in the first half.

The Wildcats answered with a touchdown later in the second quarter to take a 13-12 lead into halftime, but St. Clair — whom Roller calls “probably one of the fastest guys in the school” — gave the Rams an instant jolt coming out of the break by taking the second-half kickoff 80 yards to the end zone.

“Everybody did their job and their part,” St. Clair said. “We came out there, on the first return everybody led their blocks and made the hole. Then I finally got outside and took it up field. The same pretty much with the other one.”

Warren County rallied from a two-score deficit to tie the game at 28-all with three minutes left in the game, and again it was St. Clair who delivered the response for Strasburg. He took the kickoff following the Wildcats’ game-tying drive 75 yards to the end zone, then caught the two-point conversion pass to give the Rams a 36-28 lead.

Strasburg’s goal-line stand at the 1-yard line in the game’s final seconds sealed the win.

“I think everyone had the mindset after they scored that we needed to go down, and I think everyone thought that our offense was going to go down and win the game, but Noah kind of took care of it for us, which was great,” Ryan Smoot said.

St. Clair’s performance last Friday was made even more fitting by the fact that it was Strasburg’s senior day, but he could’ve just as easily been sitting in the stands for that game if not for a bit of peer pressure that prompted St. Clair to try out for the football team this fall.

St. Clair had all but given up on the sport after fracturing his wrist playing football as an eighth-grader. It was during a car ride to basketball camp over the summer that St. Clair — who also plays baseball at Strasburg — decided he was going to play football his senior season.

“We had like a four- or five-hour drive to North Carolina for basketball camp. I was riding with [Strasburg football/basketball assistant coach Tripp Lamb], Ryan [Smoot] and Mark [Smoot]. The whole way down in the back that’s all we talked about: football, football, football,” St. Clair recalled.

St. Clair’s decision to return to the football field has worked out well for both parties.

“That’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve made,” St. Clair said. “Just being able to not look back and say ‘I wish I would’ve done this.’ I can say I did it.”

“He is an exceptional athlete. Those are the types of kids that we need to have out,” Roller said. “Fortunately he was able to come out this year. Any of the younger athletes that fit into his mold, they have to see the results of one year and just think that ‘if I’d have played three years or four years, how good could I really be?’ I think for them, for the younger guys, looking at Noah they’ve got to say ‘hey, I can be like that. But if I play for four years I can be a little bit better than that.’

“And I think that’s what Noah could’ve been, but we’ll take what we got,” Roller added with a smile.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com