Jakai Moore is a college football recruiter’s dream. At 6-foot-5, 275-pounds, he has the size coaches crave along the offensive line. He also possesses nimble feet that allow him to slide and adjust on the fly with ease.
But for all his physical attributes, Moore entered this season struggling to see himself as an impact player who could compete at a higher level let alone receive offers.
He was too raw. He was playing three classifications up for 6A Patriot after transferring to the Nokesville school last spring from 3A Manassas Park, where he spent his first two football seasons. And once at Patriot, he shuffled from left tackle to left guard after playing right tackle at his previous school.
Sometimes, Moore questioned whether he could fit in. But then he’d catch himself and regain his focus by reminding himself of one thing.
“My thought process was to do my best and prove to people who thought I wouldn’t do well at a 6A school,” Moore said.
Moore’s attitude combined with help from Patriot’s coaches and players did more than earn him a place on the all-Cedar Run District and all-6A Region D first teams. With offers from Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina and Louisville in the last month, he’s become the highest recruited football player at Patriot since the school opened in 2011.
“He was confident and willing to learn when football started,” Patriot head coach Brud Bicknell said. “I think that the kids respected his work ethic and his willingness to work on technique and not just let his athleticism get him through.”
The sudden interest in Moore doesn’t surprise Bicknell. Bicknell believed all Moore needed was work on his technique, like getting himself lower on his blocks and improving his pass protection. It also helps Moore is 20 pounds heavier than a year ago and a year older.
The rest was already in place.
“Jakai is not only very big, but he is very athletic,” Bicknell said. “He moves very fluently for such a big man. He [is] also what the college coaches call [a] good knee bender, meaning he shows excellent athleticism and flexibility. They also like the fact that he is aggressive and plays the game hard. Finally, they see great growth potential, he hides his 275 pounds very well on his 6'5 frame.”
Patriot’s Sherman Rivers, who coaches Moore in basketball, sees the same thing on the court from a player who as a sophomore averaged a team-high 15.1 points for Manassas Park and was a first-team all-conference pick.
“He’s one of those guys where he doesn’t look 275 until someone bounces off his shoulder,” Rivers said.
Patriot offensive line coach Kevin Surber worked extensively with Moore as did senior Riley Reeder. Moore switched from left tackle to left guard after Reeder suffered a season-ending injury in Patriot’s season-opener at Colonial Forge. Moore credits Surber and Reeder with facilitating his development.
“As the season went on, I felt like I could compete at that level,” Moore said.
Maryland was the first school to offer Moore after Bicknell, who has a good relationship with members of Maryland’s staff, sent them Moore’s film. Maryland invited Moore to a game and continued to stay in touch before offering him Nov. 15.
Moore, who turns 17 Dec. 26, was taken aback, not expecting something this quick. But schools kept coming as word spread. Virginia offered Nov. 30 followed by South Carolina Dec. 5 and Louisville the next day. South Carolina, which has a commitment from Potomac senior offensive lineman Jesus Gibbs, jumped on board after learning Moore had received offers already from Maryland and Virginia.
“We were ecstatic about him moving here,” Bicknell said. “You don’t get a kid like that very often who turns heads like he does. If he was still at Manassas Park, he’d still get the same offers. Coaches are going to show up.”
It wasn’t easy for Moore to depart Manassas Park. He’d lived there since he was five and followed his two older brothers as standout prep athletes. Ellery Moore, a 2007 Manassas Park High School graduate, was a three-year starting lineman who was a member of the Cougars’ 2004 state championship team and all-state his senior season. Kenny Moore, a 2010 Manassas Park graduate, was an all-state hurdler for the Cougars’ track team and a state qualifier in wrestling.
Moore’s mother Cynthia even drove school buses for Manassas Park for many years, including the state championship football season, before leaving to drive school buses for Prince William County in 2011.
“The hardest thing leaving Manassas Park was being able to adjust to a different environment and leaving my friends and teachers,” Moore said. “The coaches were sad about me leaving.”
Cynthia Moore said she decided it was in her family’s best interest to move into Patriot’s school zone last April and live with her brother for financial reasons.
“I was going to stay, but there were issues with our house,” Cynthia Moore said.
Moore stays in touch with his friends from Manassas Park. And he’s still connected to his former teams in ways he doesn’t always recognize. One day at Patriot, while shooting a video for the boys basketball team, he wore his old Cougar warm-up outfit.
Moore already knew some of the Patriot athletes through AAU basketball when he transferred. That helped him adjust. He’s improved as a player, too.
“You go to a 6A school and you get better and the coaches look at you,” Moore said.
As more offers will come Moore is in no rush to make a decision. He arrived at Patriot with a humble attitude. He plans on staying that way.
“I don’t want to let it get to my head,” Moore said.