Apollo-Ridge junior lineman gaining techniques to go with 6-6, 322-pound frame
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Apollo-Ridge football coach John Skiba said the potential of lineman Eric Moran is enormous. Appropriate word. Moran has been ducking through doorways and sitting out amusement-park rides since he was in grade school.
The junior offensive tackle and nose guard is 6-foot-6 and 322 pounds of raw football ability just waiting to stomp footprints with his size 17 cleats.
Much of what Apollo-Ridge does this season could be predicated on how teams block — more like hold — the shadow-casting kid known as “Big Easy.”
But that won't be an easy task, especially if Moran continues to develop at left tackle where he'll protect the quarterback's backside and bulldoze the middle of the line on defense.
“His improvement from last year to this year is big for us,” Skiba said. “He's in better shape and he learned a lot from last year.”
Apollo-Ridge moved up from Class A to Class AA and joins the 10-team, Alle-Kiski Valley-heavy Allegheny Conference. The Vikings have plenty to offer at the skill positions: Pitt recruit Tre Tipton and big-play threats Alex Smith and Duane Brown will be a route-running trinity, although they could line up at quarterback at any time. But QB is for another story; back to Moran, who is one of Skiba's favorite players to coach.
The razzing between former and current linemen is priceless.
Skiba, a former standout at Laurel and Pitt starts with: “He tries to grow this beard; it's all spotty and shaggy. I told him it's embarrassing us and you.”
Moran: “I'm shaving it off just to surprise him. Everybody's in my ear about it.”
Skiba: “He doesn't like to wear a shirt under his shoulder pads. That's crazy.”
Moran: “I need more air up in there. It's more comfortable.”
Skiba: “He's a horrible liar. Someone spilled (coffee outside the locker room). I knew it was him. I told him, ‘You're the worst poker player ever.' ”
Moran: “I cleaned it up, but I didn't spill it. And I can keep a straight face.”
Skiba said Moran is coachable because of his easygoing demeanor. Moran replaces graduate Cody Joyner on the offensive line.
“I enjoy coaching him but I chew on him nonstop; I have since he was a freshman,” Skiba said. “But he'll come after you. It's fun to push his buttons a little bit. We want him to get tougher. Right now, he's not someone who's going to come out and punch you in the mouth.”
Skiba likes to keep his offensive line intact throughout games but rotates players on defense. Moran could turn out to be the anchor on both lines.
Moran started 11 games at right tackle last year.
“It's all about his flexibility and how comfortable he gets in that left-hand stance,” Skiba said. “If he does those things, the position will become easier for him.”
While Skiba has helped with Moran's technique, behind-the-scenes instruction from Jeff Christy, a former NFL All-Pro center, is helping to turn Moran into a fortified wall.
“Jeff will grab kids and work with them one-on-one, off to the side,” Skiba said. “We want to try and keep him around. He's been great for the kids.”
Christy and Skiba were teammates and Pitt.
“I feel like I am adjusting very well,” Moran said. “Honestly, it doesn't feel any different from the other side (of the line). I think it's a better fit for me. I want to be a better pass blocker.”
Christy, a Freeport and Pitt grad, said Moran's game is developing.
“Anybody that's 6-5 or 6-6 and weighs 300-plus pounds has the potential to be a real force in high school football,” Christy said. “He has pretty good feet and moves well for his size. Eric is a hard worker and wants to learn. I am very excited to see where he'll be at the end of training camp.”
Apollo-Ridge went 8-3 last year, posting the second playoff win in school history before falling to high-powered Sto-Rox in the quarterfinals.
Apollo-Ridge averaged 346 yards per game, 195 rushing. If the team is able to maintain the offensive balance in the run and pass, Moran likely will be a key reason why.
“I think we still can play at a very high level,” Moran said. “We can do just as good if not better. I think we can go deep into the playoffs. We just have to find a quarterback and it will all fall into place.”
And it will give Moran room to ride.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.
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