Matt Yates' first reception of the year set the tone for his season. Providence High's senior wide receiver took junior quarterback James Haigh's first varsity pass 40 yards for a touchdown.
"That was a big start to the season," said Yates, 17.
Yates has continued to put up big yards for the Panthers, becoming the team's main deep threat and one of the most productive wide receivers in the area.
Two moves by coach Randy Long helped him get to that position.
Yates played quarterback as an eighth-grader at Crestdale Middle School. When he came to Providence High as a freshman, Long decided to move him to wide receiver.
"He saw that I had speed and good hands and said, 'Why don't we try you out at receiver,'" said Yates.
After a year on junior varsity and a year as a backup on the varsity team as a sophomore, Long decided to move Yates again, from the "Z" receiver (the flanker who plays back from the line of scrimmage) to the "X" receiver (the split-end who plays on the line of scrimmage).
"He's been our playmaker," said Long. "We moved him over there for that reason. When you make a move sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't and for him, he made it work out."
Through his first eight games, Yates has 33 catches for 681 yards, averaging more than 20 yards per catch, and six touchdowns. Yates is the team's biggest downfield threat. If he catches it, it's usually for a big gain.
"The deep balls are my speciality," said Yates. "The yards have been amazing. ... It's really about making deep plays."
Yates, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 175 pounds, worked hard over the summer on his route running, speed and agility.
"I think it's really paid off," he said. "I've put in so many hours through my personal trainer, through the summer workouts, through school workouts. Route running and catching the ball are the main goals that I've had. That's what I've done to get better."
Against Hopewell, Yates had 147 yards on just three catches, two of which were touchdowns. Against Independence Sept. 30, he had eight catches for 180 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown reception.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, Yates' yardage has not translated into wins. Providence is 1-7 this year, their only win coming against Rocky River.
"This is definitely a rebuilding year for Providence," said Yates. "It's a struggle, but we keep practicing as hard as we can. ... that one win, we remember what that feels like, so we're trying to get that again."
The Panthers lost quarterback Chauncey Concepcion and receivers Ben England and Alex Blackwell to graduation and this year's offense only has two seniors, Yates and tackle Harrison Monk.
Yates said he learned a lot from last year's seniors and from the senior receivers his sophomore year, Braxton Deaver (Duke), Brandon Braxton (Duke) and Damon Magazu (East Carolina).
"Ben and Alex taught me a lot about what to do as a senior, how to lead," said Yates. Concepcion "taught me a lot about being a receiver. I could go out there as a junior and I'd run a route just a little bit long and he would get on me. It's gotten me a lot better."
Stepping into a leadership role seemed natural for Yates, who has been on Providence's executive board as the community service chair last year and the spirit chair this year and is also involved with the school's National Honor Society.
"He's been one of the seniors who have really stepped up," said Long. "That's the biggest compliment I think you can give a guy is he stepped up and has gotten it done on the field. I'm proud of him for that."
Yates played baseball as a freshman, but a shoulder injury kept him from trying out as sophomore. He said he wishes he could have kept playing, but he's enjoyed focusing on football.
Yates is focused on making his next move into college football. He said he's talked with coaches at Davidson and Campbell and is also interested in playing college football at Furman and Wofford, but he doesn't have any scholarship offers yet.
"I would love to play college football," he said. "It's my dream. I'm trying to stay strong this season ... talk to these coaches and get a scholarship. That's my goal."