RIVERVIEW — Upon further review, tenacity leaped from the game DVDs Spoto football coach Dale Caparaso was studying. Time after time, whistles blared even as No. 3’s legs kept churning.
So Caparaso did a little quantifying, trying to attach a numerical figure to the fortitude. Eventually, the coach discovered that on nearly 35 percent of junior Eric Moate’s carries last fall, the sleek tailback’s knees never hit the ground.
When it appeared Moate’s progress had stalled, officials stopped the play, Moate still mostly perpendicular to the turf. “Everyone looks at Eric as a fast kid,” Caparaso said. “Eric may be the most physical runner in this area.”
That physicality may serve as the ideal metaphor for Moate’s life.
Adversity of the most caustic kind — both parents are in prison — has dragged and pulled at the Spartans’ 1,200-yard rusher and state medal-winning sprinter. Yet Eric Lashane Moate Jr.’s forward progress hasn’t been thwarted.
“I’m very proud of Eric,” said Nicole Goldsmith, the aunt who has raised him the past three years. “He’s a good boy, because he could be doing other things.”
An honor student with a 3.9 grade-point average, Moate won the 100- and 200-meter titles at Tuesday night’s Vernon F. Korhn County championships, setting a personal record (10.76) in the shorter race. Earlier in the day, he placed sixth in the high jump with a 6-foot effort.
His fleetness, ruggedness and classroom success have garnered the attention of several Division I football programs including USF, Miami, Michigan, Georgia, Clemson and UCLA.
“He’s a pretty darn good kid,” Caparaso said, “considering his tough upbringing.”
Indeed, Moate was an infant when it appeared he’d be tackled by sheer fate.
He was barely a month old when his father, with whom he has had minimal contact, was sentenced to 22 years in prison after being convicted in Highlands County on two counts each of attempted murder and armed robbery.
Then at age 11, Moate’s mom, whom he visits at an Ocala correctional facility twice a month, was convicted of manslaughter in a Panhandle courthouse. Trakennia Goldsmith, found guilty of stabbing a 25-year-old woman during an altercation outside Goldsmith’s apartment, received the minimum 8-year prison term after the victim’s family publicly sought leniency.
It was shortly after the imprisonment of Goldsmith, set to be released in June, that Moate moved in with his maternal grandmother in Lake Placid. Another rough stretch, this one self-inflicted, ensued.
“I was staying with my grandma and I started getting in like, a lot of trouble, fights and stuff,” Moate said. “There’s a lot of good times down there, but nobody really makes it out.”
Enter Nicole, who had watched her nephew play football and recognized the potential that lurked beneath the rebellious veneer. Realizing his need for discipline, Nicole brought Eric and his half-brother to live with her in Brandon just before his freshman year.
To this day, Nicole — a single mom — raises the two boys in a four-bedroom townhome with her college-aged daughter and Eric’s cousin, Spartans sophomore Traverrian Williams. Chores are interspersed with outings to Cheddar’s, discipline co-exists with duels on the Xbox.
What won’t co-habitate are sports and sinking grades. An “F’ on a report card results in automatic removal from athletics, though Nicole said that rule so far has been unchallenged.
“She’s meant a lot,” Moate said after Tuesday’s meet, which Nicole attended. “She inspires me and is dedicated to me. She keeps me motivated and keeps me on track with a lot of things. “
Now, hope buoys Moate where circumstance once tried bringing him down. He aspires to medal for the second year in a row at the state track meet, then earn more college exposure in the summer and fall, when his mother will finally see him play.
“I feel like I’ve been through a lot,” he said. “But in the end, I came (to Spoto) and I’ve gotten better opportunities and stuff.”
Joey Knight can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org