The eight pounds of steel and wood felt much heavier than it ought to in Ray Moon's hands.
It was the weight of responsibility which added the extra heft to the Remington, 12-gauge, pump action shotgun Moon gripped anxiously as he methodically scanned the group of inmates fanned out on outdoor work duty in front of him.
"If somebody starts running, shoot 'em," he was instructed.
And as he stared out from the high ground of Oakalla Prison's fields in Burnaby, Moon began wondering to himself how in the world a kid from the west side of Vancouver had ended up there.
That was just over 35 years ago. Moon was just 19.
And his dream of playing pro football was just that—a dream, one that was over too soon after it began.
Today, he is living another dream.
Retired from his 35 year career as a prison guard, he now watches over another uniformed group under his guidance—the South Delta Sundevils football team who are so far unbeaten in the young season.
It's a task the long time head coach relishes as he reflects on what might have been from his time on the grid iron.
Ironically, Moon started off his athletic career as a bruising centre on the basketball court—he was six-foot-three and 190 pounds by the age of 13.
"I was the one in the paint with the sharp elbows," he says smiling.
And when he ended up on the campus of Vancouver College in Grade 9, his mature physique drew questions from just about all who laid eyes on him.
"'Are you going to come out and play football?' people kept asking me," Moon says. "And I said, 'Sure, I'd like to try this.'"
So, he soon hit the football field for the very first time. And when he was in Grade 10 Moon was playing on both the junior and varsity teams as a defensive end and tackle.
"The one thing I had going for me was I had a little bit of speed," Moon says, revealing his time in the 40 yard sprint was 4.8 seconds despite his size.
That combination of size and speed was enough for scouts to take notice and eventually offer him a scholarship to Simon Fraser University in 1975.
But his father, who brought Moon up by himself, fell ill shortly after he started playing at the Burnaby Mountain school.
"At the age of eight my dad had rheumatic fever, so, he had a leaky (heart) valve. And he suffered the first of what would be four strokes."
With just the two of them, that left the young Moon having to stow away the helmet and pads and find a job to support their household.
He had previously worked weekends at Oakalla—also known at the time as the Lower Mainland Regional Correctional Centre. And when a full time position opened up he took it, ditching his two other jobs in landscaping and security at a night club in the Fraser Arms Hotel.
A naive 19-year-old, Moon went from looking after intermittent prisoners for two-day stretches—many were incarcerated for impaired driving—to full-time care of hard core criminals.
"On my second day on the job they handed me a shotgun and said, 'You're security for the (work) gang, and if they run, aim for effect."
Moon said the job was understandably high stress. He's had to deal with escape attempts that had him scaling Oakalla's fences in pursuit of an inmate seeking freedom. Thankfully, he had an outlet to deal with the demands of his work life—sports.
"I was still playing football for a junior team, the Vancouver Blue Bombers," Moon says, adding he earned the rookie of the year award with the club.
Not long afterwards, once he aged out of junior football, Moon got a shot to try out with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts.
"I got that opportunity because I was a pain in the derriere," he says. "I'd write letters and make phone calls to the clubs. And since at that time there wasn't a lot of film of players for coaches to see, the letters and calls worked and I got a try out."
So, he grabbed all of his football gear, bought his own plane ticket and headed east.
Although he impressed the coaching staff in Toronto the talent pool he had to wade through was so deep Moon was soon cast adrift.
The same happened at subsequent shots during his try out swing through CFL camps with the Hamilton Tiger Cats and Calgary Stampeders.
It's not something he regrets.
"I don't know about everybody else, but I've always thought that if you don't try, you end up living in yesteryear. So, I had to try. I knocked on the door, they didn't open it."
At 23 and with no place else to play, Moon hung up his cleats and concentrated on his career, steadily moving up the ladder with B.C. Corrections, while at various times lending his talents to other organizations such as Surrey Search and Rescue, and volunteering as a reserve member of the Vancouver Police Department which had him on duty during the Stanley Cup riot in 1994.
In 2010 he retired and now has more time to dedicate to the Sundevils, a team he has spent the past 12 years grooming.
He started as the offensive line coach, and within two weeks he was both offensive and defensive line coach.
Four years later, then head coach Brian Higgins decided to hand the team over to Moon.
The rest is history, which has included a provincial championship in 2008.
Moon says he owes the team's success to the effort of the players and his coaching staff.
"As head coach I'm just a figurehead. It's really the other coaches, they are the ones who are really preparing the players."
And prepare they have.
SDSS has had a steady stream of football talent earning scholarships to post secondary institutions.
"It's great being here at home helping the kids out, seeing success like last year," Moon says.
That was when 11 SDSS players got scholarships for football.
"Those are the rewarding times, knowing these kids are getting help with school and are having fun doing it."
It's something Moon says he still has, whether it's running practice on a miserable wet day, or come game time when he dons the headset and puts his field plan into motion.
"I love coaching. There's the old saying that when it stops being fun, don't do it."
Moon says he hasn't reached that point yet.
Yes, there are other distractions.
"There's those things called golf and fishing that I've heard about. I'd like to try those," he says laughing. "Football can become such a massive thing. During the season I can put in about 60 hours a week."
He also coaches Team B.C.'s offensive line and helps at UBC's spring training camps and SFU's all star camp.
But leading his high school football players to success is where he's at right now.
"Apparently, I am able to motivate them. The guys know when I'm not a happy camper. I don't often have to raise my voice. They just see me, and read me."