8:35 PM EDT, August 18, 2011
NORFOLK — Kwontie Moore, Mario Nixon and Courtnye Wynn were basketball guys. Football? They didn't know a slot receiver from a slot machine.
Wil Wahee was familiar with shoulder pads and a helmet, but he, too, preferred basketball.
So how did these engaging young men emerge as stars for Norfolk Christian's state-championship football team? And how did they all come to accept football scholarships from the University of Virginia?
Think about the improbability. Of the 23 commitments in the Cavaliers' acclaimed 2012 class, four hail from a fledgling, private-school program where the only barrier between the practice field and passing traffic is a chain-link fence not much taller than the players.
"I think they see each other as brothers," Norfolk Christian coach Heath Gibbs said of the foursome. "That's how close they are."
Sure enough, in a group conversation this week, Moore, Nixon, Wynn and Wahee hazed one another and completed one another's sentences as if they were lifelong friends. Rather, they met a few years back on the South Hampton Roads summer basketball circuit.
Moore and Nixon enrolled at Norfolk Christian as 8th graders, Wynn and Wahee a year later.
"We came here first of all expecting to get a Christian education and also just to play basketball … with James McAdoo," said Moore, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound linebacker. "Football wasn't even on our minds."
McAdoo, a North Carolina signee and the MVP of last season's McDonald's All-American Game, attracted scores of recruiters to Norfolk Christian, where high school enrollment is about 230. Meanwhile, the football program, started in 2005, staggered to a 13-32 record in its first five seasons.
But basketball coach Michael Allen, who also serves as the Ambassadors' athletic director, encouraged his players to try football.
"As the AD, I'm looking out for all our teams," Allen said. "As the basketball coach, I wish they could have been dedicated (solely) to basketball."
Wahee, Wynn, Nixon and Moore still play basketball, but they fell for football.
"We just started to help the team out, and then we got a love for it," said Wynn, a 6-5, 240-pound defensive end.
"We kind of created a relationship (with the basketball team)," Gibbs said. "The sports translate well. Mario is 6-4 and pushing 220 (pounds). He runs a 4.4 40. That's what you want in a football player. Plus, he's tough. Naturally, he's a really good football player. He just didn't know it."
Nixon projects as a college receiver, Wahee a defensive back, and last season they Wynn and Moore led Norfolk Christian to not only its first winning season (11-1), but also the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division III state championship.
"We just worked hard," Wynn said. "That's all. We came to practice, listened to the coaches. We went to summer combines, got better, watched film."
As the victories accumulated, folks began flocking to home games at the DLH Sportsplex in Virginia Beach — Norfolk Christian has no football field, and the team practices on a soccer field (no yard lines).
"Everybody was amazed at first," Wynn said.
"They thought it was a fluke," Nixon said. "Then they started getting on the bandwagon."
Like many private schools, the Ambassadors lack numbers and depth. Most play both ways, and Gibbs, an insurance underwriter by day, expects about 32 players this season, a handful more than 2010.
This is Gibbs' third season at Norfolk Christian. He coached his alma mater, Greenbrier Christian, for three years and is a former assistant at Christopher Newport.
Gibbs' practices rarely include serious contact or 11-on-11 work. Special teams drills are conducted in front of portable goal posts set up near a parking lot cluttered with school busses.
"They're like father figures to us," Moore said of Gibbs and his staff. "Usually people will come to us and say we're the face of Norfolk Christian. Well that's not true. The coaches are, and that's how it's supposed to be."
Spartan surroundings notwithstanding, none of the four considered transferring back to the public school system — Moore and Wahee live in Norfolk, Wynn in Portsmouth, Nixon in Virginia Beach.
"The public schools, we've faced them all in combines," Moore said, "and there's really not that much difference between them and us four. It doesn't make a difference what (high) school we go to."
It was at combines and camps that the foursome's athleticism was most evident. They attracted varying degrees of interest but collectively received offers from schools such as Virginia, Virginia Tech, Oregon, Stanford, Notre Dame, North Carolina State, North Carolina, Arkansas, Michigan State and Navy.
Wahee was the first to commit to Virginia, in early May. Moore followed two days later, Wynn two months later. Nixon was the final holdout, sort of.
He first pledged May 15, to Virginia Tech. But on Aug. 6, he visited Virginia. Three days later, he called Cavaliers coach Mike London to switch.
"They didn't gang up on me," Nixon said of his three amigos nudging him toward Virginia. "They were giving me some advice on going to U.Va."
"It just felt like home to us," Wynn said.
"Going to Norfolk Christian, faith is a big part of our background," Wahee said. "Coach London preached faith, family and football. That played a big factor in our decision."
"The thing about U.Va. is, they're trying to build a program like we're trying to build a program," Moore said.
And if you thought the Cavaliers landing four prospects from one school was unusual …
Moore, Wynn, Nixon and Wahee insist a fifth is on the way. Running back/defensive back Jacorey Robins, a transfer from Churchland High, has an offer from Navy but is hoping for one from Virginia.
"Just so everybody knows," Wynn said, "it's not the Fabulous Four anymore. It's the Fab Five."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP