It seems like Kentrail Moran has been in high school forever.
He was still just a freshman when he emerged as a force on the football fields of the Southwestern Conference and he's been on the radar of media and college scouts ever since.
Four years later, the University of Illinois commit is bearing down on the O'Fallon High School record books.
Moran's 294 yards in a win over Alton on Friday pushed him past E.J. Johnson at No. 2 on the Panthers' all-time rushing list. With 337 more yards in what could be the final four games of his high school career, he'll pass Duane Bennett for the top spot.
"It'll be strange not having him back here next year," said O'Fallon coach Brandon Joggerst of the Belleville News-Democrat Athlete of the Week. "He's been our guy for four years."
At his current pace — 125 yards per game, 6.2 yards per carry — Moran would claim the school record sometime during O'Fallon's Week 8 game at Belleville East.
The ascent hasn't always been easy for Moran, who seized a starting job in the Panthers' backfield early in his first season in pads.
2,800 Kentrail Moran’s career rushing yardage at O’Fallon
336 Yards he needs to become the Panthers’ all-time leading ball carrier
He led O'Fallon with 699 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns as a freshman, then followed up with 1,130 yards and 8 TDs as a sophomore.
But a concussion and deep thigh bruise as a junior ate into Moran's productivity and he was able to carry just 99 times for 342 yards.
This season has been a rocky one as well. Heading into Week 5, O'Fallon found itself in unfamiliar territory at 0-4. Surrounded by less-experienced components on offense, Moran has been running with a target on his back.
"It's added motivation," he said. "Yes, it's been frustrating, but we've come together and we're really starting to play for each other. There are other weapons on the field and I see us all coming together to win some more ball games."
With the season's first win out of the way — a 42-7 dismantling of Alton in which Moran carried for four touchdowns — Joggerst expects the same. Furthermore, he expects his senior running back to be at the center of a Panther resurgence.
"It has to be frustrating for him being injured last year and not being as productive as he had gotten accustomed to his first two years, and then with the slow team start this year,” said Joggerst. “He doesn’t show that frustration outwardly, though.
To Kentrail’s credit he’s always been a very hard worker, studies film and asks good questions. He’s also a very humble kid so there’s nothing egotistical there that takes away from the team. He’s the one to rally the troops and sees that they focus on the positive and what’s ahead of them.
Brandon Joggerst, O’Fallon head football coach
“To Kentrail's credit he's always been a very hard worker, studies film and asks good questions. He's also a very humble kid so there's nothing egotistical there that takes away from the team. He's the one to rally the troops and sees that they focus on the positive and what's ahead of them."
Moran has always had to run carrying the added weight of expectation.
He received his first two scholarship offers from Illinois and Northern Illinois before the end of his freshman year. He also was contacted by recruiters from Louisville, Syracuse, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas and Michigan among others. His soft-spoken, unassuming demeanor helped him manage that pressure, too.
"He's been recruited for four years, which is a monumental amount of time, but he's handled it really well," Joggerst said. "He does not let himself lose focus on his grades or his practice habits. It's a fine balancing act, because it can be a drain on your time and can be very demanding. There is pressure from all different angles about where to go to school and where not to go to school. He's done a great job keeping himself balanced."
Moran elected to join the Fighting Illini and the Big Ten for numerous reasons he said. Mostly, he said he is attracted to the school’s academic reputation — he says his grade point average is better than 3.0 and he plans to major in accounting — and that he’s eager to test his abilities in a football power conference. He also appreciates Illinois’ reputation for producing great running backs.
“It’s also close proximity to home, which has a little bit to do with it, too,” Joggerst said. “They've had a down record and some coaching turmoil, but at the end of the day it's still the University of Illinois, it's the Big Ten, and he’s going to get a great degree."