I did it again Monday, stayed up too late when I knew — knew — that a good night in the sack almost guaranteed a bounce to my step the day following. With the crud I have meandering through parts of my body and radiation taking a toll, l know that sleep is one of the better antidotes en route to feeling halfway decent.
But Monday — oh, Monday — that was that last day of the NFL’s first week, and the Denver Broncos were playing the final game. No big Denver fan am I, but I figured if I made it through the first half, I might get a peek at Sherando’s George Aston, an undrafted free-agent fullback whose work ethic, grit, and superior blocking skills had caught the Bronco coaching staff and front-office’s eye.
And for good reason. The young man is simply made to be a football player — from his fullback’s body to his knowledge of the game to the intangibles (heart, desire, guts).
You might think I know this Aston kid, or something. Well, yes and no. I’ve barely spoken to the youngster, except at Sherando’s seemingly annual reclamation of the Barr-Lindon Crimson Apple, awarded to the dominant team in the Winchester-Frederick County series.
No, I can say I witnessed the birth of George, the football player, at the cradle. Again, not quite, but close. For four years, Nakoma, my little brother in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, played for the Ravens in the city youth football league. The best player on the Ravens from the time he was 10? George Aston.
George hadn’t grown into his body yet, but his fire and instincts were already simmering. One of my wife’s favorite memories of those days was of George dragging would-be tacklers down the field, collecting more as he lurched forward. The kid was a manchild even then.
By the time he was 13, George had grown and fleshed out some, which made him more of a force. My little brother was still relatively small, but Ravens’ coach Ken Allen inserted Nakoma at linebacker some that last season. Memory evades me, but he may have played alongside George in 5-2 alignment or behind the future All-Stater when he roamed “the edge.”
Whatever the set-up, Coach Allen’s “strategery,” plus a whole lot of George, elevated the team to the league little.
I knew Nakoma would never play alongside another player of such caliber, so I also understood I would never be as keenly observant of a teammate of my Little Brother. But I resolved to keep track of Mr. Aston at Sherando, which is but a few miles from our house. He did not disappoint there, earning all-state honors, nor at Pitt where he walked on as a linebacker and ended up at fullback, where his blow-the-man-down blocking talents and his nose for the end zone coming out of the backfield prompted his coach, Pat Narduzzi, to label him a “monster.”
So it was no surprise when he landed that free-agent spot with Denver and started to move up the depth chart. And when fellow fullback (and team emotional leader) Andy Janovich went down with a pectoral injury back in August, it looked as if George might have found a roster spot. From free agent to starting fullback — what a story!
But then something happened, and I confess I don’t know what it is. Not only is George not on the 52-man Sunday team, but also as best we at The Star can tell, he’s not on the practice team either. Perhaps the best description of his status was offered by one of our sportswriters, who declared him “in limbo.” Which means, possibly, that Denver still has plans for him.
I surely hope so. Over nearly 40 years in this business — the first 10 as a sportswriter and the latter 30 spent as an ardent fan of high-school sports — I’ve either seen or covered the best Virginia and West Virginia can offer. Some may have bested George Aston in the talent category, but few, if any, outhustled or outworked him.
He earned his shot at the Big Time, which may prove a volley of opportunity, knowing George. From those improvised practice fields at Jim Barnett Park to its makeshift little stadium, George Aston, mighty mite at 10, embarked upon a road we hope still has miles — and touchdowns — to go.